Handcuffing 6-Year-Olds in New Orleans? Seriously?

School officials shackled Ja'Briel Weston to a chair for being disobedient. Two days later, they did it again. Now his father is suing. Why we should all be concerned.

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One plausible reason that schools have been able to get away with so much is that students themselves are rarely included at the table when disciplinary sentencing rules are established. In New Orleans, a group called Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools has set out to change that. In this group, children from the Recovery School District brainstorm conflict resolutions and make recommendations on how schools can preserve dignity for students even when delivering punishment. Among recommendations they made last year (pdf) are deterring mandatory use of metal detectors in elementary schools, and increasing social worker and counseling staffs in schools.

If Ja'Briel Weston's father, and the juvenile-justice advocates supporting him, win their case, schools will hopefully get an opportunity to produce alternatives to their current methods of dealing with problem children. And perhaps a win will compel the school district and state government to supply more resources so that schools can implement those alternatives. If they lose, this would send a bad signal to other schools throughout New Orleans and beyond, that shackling 6-year-olds is acceptable. Just as common sense tells us that waterboarding is torture, we should be able to discern that handcuffing is cruel and unusual for children in their earliest ages of development.

Brentin Mock, a regular contributor to The Root, is based in New Orleans.

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