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Public Counsel Fights Expansion of School-to-Prison Pipeline in New Mexico

Most people would agree that ordinary childish behaviors should not result in an arrest

Urging reconsideration of a decision that defies common sense, Public Counsel joined five national children's rights organizations to file a friend of the court brief asking for a rehearing of a case in which a middle school student was arrested and handcuffed for fake burping and laughing during P.E. class. The Tenth Circuit previously held in a 2-1 decision that the arrest was acceptable because the fake burping “disrupted” the school.

The arresting officer's action was based on a New Mexico law that makes interfering with a school’s “mission, processes, procedures, or functions” a misdemeanor. The boy's mother, furious that typical childish behavior landed her son in a juvenile detention facility,  took legal action against the school police officer. Public Counsel’s brief is filed in support of the plaintiff’s request for a rehearing by the full Tenth Circuit Court.

The stakes in the case are severe. If this decision stands it could exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline by giving law enforcement almost unlimited discretion to arrest children. The criminalization of students for ordinary behavior has been documented to have severe negative consequences – impacting their education, health and life outcomes – as well as increasing their chances of further involvement with the criminal justice system.

Additionally, numerous studies show that African American and Latino children, as well as children with disabilities, are unfairly targeted by harsh discipline policies. In particular, Students of Color are especially vulnerable under these type of “discretionary discipline” referrals – where wide discretion is given to administrators and police officers to interpret the policy.

Due to the above concerns, as well as well-recognized legal precedent that is in contradiction to the Tenth Circuit’s decision, Public Counsel joined to file this brief with five other organizations – Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, Children’s Law Center, Inc., Juvenile Law Center, Texas Appleseed, and Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project – to protect the health and safety of the children of New Mexico.

Click HERE to view our friend of the court brief

In California, Public Counsel is leading the fight to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. Our Statewide Education Rights Project is working to eliminate suspensions for "willful defiance", and is promoting more effective methods for addressing student behavior – such as restorative justice practices and positive behavior supports. Click HERE for more info.



bart simpson at blackboard