School Climate & Safety

Excessive Force Used On District’s Students, NAACP Local Alleges

By Darcia Harris Bowman — April 14, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A Seattle-area school district is facing nearly $40 million in damage claims for allegedly allowing its security officers to use excessive force in restraining students, including the use of handcuffs.

The Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed separate complaints last month against the Kent, Wash., school district on behalf of at least 12 black students from 10 families. The students say they suffered rough treatment at the hands of various security officers employed by the school district.

Carl Mack, the branch president of the civil rights organization, argues that the repeated incidents of excessive force disproportionately involved African-American students, and he suggests racism in the way the district applies its discipline policies. Ten percent of the school system’s 27,000 students are black.

“Out of the 25 families that have come to us [with complaints about the school officers’ restraint tactics], 23 were African-American,” Mr. Mack said last week. “That’s when it became clear to us that race was an issue here.”

Mr. Mack said his organization was seeking compensation for the affected families, the possible dismissal of some guards, and changes in the district’s discipline practices. Under state law, the NAACP can file a lawsuit 60 days after the complaints were filed with the district.

Kent Superintendent Barbara Grohe has called for an independent investigation of the incidents, and is planning a broader review of the district’s discipline and safety procedures. But she defended her district’s security force in an interview last week, and denied any systemic discrimination.

“Our security officers are called to situations in our schools where staff members feel they need additional assistance,” Ms. Grohe said. “And that is based on the behavior of the students, not on the race of the student.”

Review Planned

The Kent school system, Washington state’s fourth-largest district, employs 18 unarmed security guards. Two are assigned to each of the district’s four high schools, one at each of seven junior high schools, and three guards patrol the 28 elementary schools.

The NAACP complaints have called attention to the security guards’ use of handcuffs on even the youngest of the district’s students. The officers have carried the metal restraints since the force was started in 1995, Ms. Grohe said, and district officials estimate they have been used on students as many as 48 times since the start of this school year.

In four of those cases, the students were in elementary schools. The superintendent was not ready last week to say that the district would discontinue its use of handcuffs.

“We’re going to examine it carefully,” Ms. Grohe said, “but we’re going to be thoughtful about where we go next. We’re as concerned about the students and staff on the receiving end of this behavior as we are about the children involved in these incidents.”

The students listed in the various NAACP complaints accuse security guards of pulling their hair, dousing them with pepper spray, slamming them against lockers, and roughly handcuffing them.

Shuvonyeh Veasley, a 15-year-old Kent student who was one of the first three to file complaints against the district, says a security guard grabbed her by the hair, slammed her against a row of lockers, and then threw her to the floor and handcuffed her on March 15, according to a copy of the claim obtained from the district.

Ms. Veasley claims to have suffered public humiliation, back injuries, and pain from the handcuffs, as a result of the incident, and says her civil rights were violated. The claim estimates her damages at $3.3 million.

Ms. Grohe declined to comment on any specific allegations, but she emphasized that handcuffs are used only when students are in danger of hurting themselves or other students or staff members, or when officers suspect or know a student has a weapon.

The superintendent said last week that she was in the process of appointing a four-person committee— consisting of two parents who already serve on the district’s diversity committee, an auditor, and a school safety specialist—to investigate the incidents listed in the NAACP complaints.

She said she also plans to hire a safety expert with national expertise to review the district’s policies, operations, and training.

Related Tags:

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Can Districts Legally Mandate Student Vaccines? No, Two New Lawsuits Claim
Two large California districts are being sued over policies requiring vaccinations for schoolchildren by the end of 2021.
5 min read
Diego Cervantes, 16, gets a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the First Baptist Church of Pasadena on May 14, 2021, in Pasadena, Calif.
Diego Cervantes, 16, gets a shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the First Baptist Church of Pasadena last spring in Pasadena, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center Higher Student Morale Linked to In-Person Instruction, Survey Shows
Educators see student morale rising since last spring, according to a new EdWeek Research Center survey.
4 min read
Second-grade students raise their hands during a math lesson with teacher Carlin Daniels at Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden, Conn., Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.
Second grade students raise their hands during a math lesson in Meriden, Conn., Sept. 30.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP
School Climate & Safety Law Against 'Disorderly Conduct' in Schools Led to Unfair Student Arrests, Judge Rules
The South Carolina ruling is a model for other states where students are still being arrested for minor incidents, an attorney said.
6 min read
Scales of justice and Gavel on wooden table.
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock
School Climate & Safety A Rise in School Shootings Leads to Renewed Calls for Action
A return to in-person learning means a return to school shootings, advocates warn.
5 min read
Families depart the Mansfield ISD Center For The Performing Arts Center where families were reunited with Timberview High School Students, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Mansfield, Texas. Police in Texas have arrested a student suspected of opening fire during a fight at his Dallas-area high school, leaving four people injured.
Families were reunited Oct. 6 in Mansfield, Texas, after a student opened fire at Timberview High School in Arlington, leaving four people injured. Data show that the start of this school year has been particularly violent compared to previous years.
Tony Gutierrez/AP