No Child Left In Handcuffs

Alabama’s schools are in the news today:

An impressive 87 percent of Alabama’s 1,364 public schools met state standards in reading and math, according to the latest progress reports of test results released Monday.

The local districts were no exception

More area schools met all of their academic goals this year, according to progress reports released Monday by the state Department of Education.

Jefferson County had 92 percent of its schools to meet all of their goals, up from 57 percent last year.

In Shelby County, 97 percent of the schools met their goals this year, up from 70 percent last year.

Birmingham this year had 80 percent of its schools to meet their goals, compared to 40 percent last year.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, each year on state assessments. Schools must meet state goals in reading, math and additional indicators. If any school fails to make AYP two years in a row in the same component, it enters school improvement status.

All three districts met AYP this year.

You can get commentary here, and here. My opinion? The results mean teachers have improved at feeding random facts to students, and students have improved at regurgitating them on standardized tests. Does that mean anyone is getting a better education now than they would have five years ago? Who knows.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is a case recently decided by the Eleventh Circuit.

Basically, during gym class at a Tuscaloosa school, nine (9) year old Laquarius Gray was not properly performing her jumping jacks. The teacher – Coach Williams – told her to go stand near a wall. She responded with something like “I bust you in the head.” Coach Williams and another coach, being  grown men, in no way felt threatened by the nine (9) year old’s empty words:

Neither Coach Horton nor Coach Williams was afraid of Gray or believed that Gray would actually carry out her threat. When asked whether he was “ever afraid that [Gray] would commit an act of violence towards [him] or Ms. Horton,” Coach Williams replied, “No, sir.” Similarly, Coach Horton replied “No,’ when asked if she was “ever afraid that Ms. Gray would physically assault you or another student?” When asked, “[W]hen Ms. Gray told Coach Williams that she was going to bust him in the head she’s not actually physically capable of doing that, is she,” Coach Horton agreed. Coach Horton planned to talk with Gray about the incident and give her a warning. Coach Horton testified that she would not have been required to write Gray up, give Gray detention, or send her to the principal’s office “because it wasn’t that major.”

So that was it right?  Wrong. Enter the school resource officer: Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy Antonio Bostic. He decided to teach the nine (9) year old girl some respect:

Deputy Bostic told Gray to turn around, pulled her hands behind her back and put Gray in handcuffs. Deputy Bostic tightened the handcuffs to the point that they caused Gray pain. Deputy Bostic told Gray, “[T]his is how it feels when you break the law,” and “[T]his is how it feels to be in jail.” Gray began to cry. Gray stood with the handcuffs on for not less than five minutes, with Deputy Bostic standing behind her.

In discovery responses, Deputy Bostic averred that he detained and handcuffed Gray “to impress upon her the serious nature of committing crimes that can lead to arrest, detention or incarceration” and “to help persuade her to rid herself of her disrespectful attitude.” Deputy Bostic’s discovery responses also stated that he “did not feel the need to apologize to LaQuarius Gray for telling her that she committed a misdemeanor in my presence and showing her what would happen if a less generous officer than I were to arrest her for her actions.”

I am frigtened for all residents of Tuscaloosa County if Deputy Bostic is considered lenient. A nine year old girl – 9!! – smarts off to her teacher before she obeys his command. The remark is so innocuous that the teacher disregards it. Yet this guy slaps the cuffs on her and accuses her of criminal activity. Never mind his disregard of the Fourth Amendment, his actions show an extreme lack of good sense.

Thankfully, he is going to face a lawsuit for his irresponsible actions. The use of the cuffs violated the Fourth Amendment:

We likewise conclude that Deputy Bostic’s conduct in handcuffing Gray, a compliant, nine-year-old girl for the sole purpose of punishing her was an obvious violation of Gray’s Fourth Amendment rights. After making the comment, Gray had complied with her teachers’ and Deputy Bostic’s instructions. Indeed, one of the teachers had informed Deputy Bostic that she would handle the matter. In addition, Deputy Bostic’s purpose in handcuffing Gray was not to pursue an investigation to confirm or dispel his suspicions that Gray had committed a misdemeanor. Rather, Deputy Bostic’s purpose in handcuffing Gray was simply to punish her and teach her a lesson. Every reasonable officer would have known that handcuffing a compliant nine-year-old child for purely punitive purposes is unreasonable.

Here’s hoping that not only the reasonable officers, but officers like Deputy Bostic learn that lesson.

Explore posts in the same categories: Alabama News, Appellate And Post-Conviction Issues, Eleventh Circuit, Fourth Amendment, Police Issues

4 Comments on “No Child Left In Handcuffs”

  1. Kathy Says:

    I agree with you that the deputy seriously overreacted to the child’s comment. On the other hand, I do think she deserved a trip to the office to discuss her attitude with the principal. Telling a teacher that you will bust them in the head is not a minor incident. Maybe teachers hear worse every day. If that’s the case, I feel terrible for them.

    I taught preschool music for ten years in an upscale part of town and was continually amazed at the disrespect for adults I saw from kids as young as four. I really feared for them later in life, but if threats are no big deal in elementary school, I guess they don’t have to worry.

  2. MCF Says:

    Wow, that’s awful re: the Tuscaloosa Co. case. There have been some pretty egregious 4th Amendment violations in the schools that have been upheld in recent years (this coming from a right-of-center, law-and-order guy).

    As for NCLB and the results, there are a couple of things at work here (and let me say: I’ve spent two years in a low-performing school as a junior high teacher just as NCLB was being implemented, so I have a little first-hand experience).

    First of all, for all its faults, I do think that NCLB has been a net positive. Although teachers at my school griped every day about the requirements of NCLB, it did force many of them to get off their asses and actually teach everyday. You would have been appalled by the laziness of some of these teachers: having sixth- and seventh-graders fill out coloring books every day, cut out pictures, etc. Really, it was bad. With NCLB, many of these teachers knew that their laziness was about to be exposed, and for the first time in years, they were forced to actually follow their pacing guides and teach something.

    Second, folks like to criticize “teaching to the test.” A couple of points here. “Teaching to the test” is not bad if the test is a fair and good one, and it’s certainly better than not teaching at all. Also, like it or not, we live in a world in which test results determine a whole helluva lot. Learning to take and do well on a standardized test is a skill that kids need to learn. We can debate whether that’s the way the world should be, but as long as SATs/ACTs/LSATs/MCATs control entry into our post-secondary and graduate schools, this is the way it is.

    Finally, I have no doubt that a lot of the “positive” results that you’re seeing regarding NCLB compliance is the result of some pretty serious goalpost-shifting. Between my first and second years in the public schools of another southern state, our NCLB results increased dramatically. Why? Not because the students were necessarily doing that much better on the test; they improved, but not dramatically. What actually happened was that the state basically changed its own scoring system for its NCLB tests. You see, NCLB requires a certain level of passage, but it doesn’t necessarily tell the states what tests they must use or what a minimum passing score must look like. So after a couple of years, it’s become pretty easy to ensure NCLB compliance by manipulating both the content of the test chosen by the state and the minimum passing scores required to show competence. I’d be willing to bet that this kind of goalpost-shifting occurred between last year and this year in Alabama.

    That’s not to say that the schools aren’t getting better; perhaps they are. But these results suggest a dramatic improvement over a single year that almost certainly didn’t occur.

  3. So long as she wuz black, I is OK with handcuffin her ta teach her a lesson, so long as the cuffs aint too tite-like…cuz I is a compassionate conservative…

    …and a racist. But I dont hate other races, I jez thank they should have thar own places…like th’ bible sez ta’

  4. […] The Alablawg Commentary On Alabama Law And Society « No Child Left In Handcuffs […]

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