GLSP attorney keeps fourth-grader out
of school-to-prison pipeline
Kevin, a fourth-grader, was in the school playground this September on a climbing wall when Dillon, a classmate, accused him of “snitching” that Dillon had brought a BB gun to school. Kevin said he hadn’t done that, but Dillon pushed him, threatened him and wouldn’t let him down off the wall.
Later that afternoon, Kevin wrote a note to Dillon saying, in part, “Watch your back. I’ll hurt you in a snap,” with pictures of a knife dripping blood and a skull and cross bones. Dillon wrote an epithet on the note and passed it back. The teacher intercepted the note and sent both boys to the principal’s office.
Kevin had had some trouble at school before, some angry outbursts that included hitting and kicking. But this time, the principal called his note “terroristic threats,” said there would be a hearing and that Kevin would be suspended for the rest of the semester (nine weeks) and sent to an alternative school.
Kevin’s parents called Georgia Legal Services and our education specialist, Ira Foster, took his case. Ira has devoted his career trying to break up the school-to-prison pipeline that so often starts with harsh discipline for a minor act, such as what Kevin was experiencing.
In Kevin’s case, the news was good. He had legal representation at his disciplinary hearing and the hearing officer ruled that his note was not a “terroristic threat.” He was not suspended but was required to attend counseling sessions to help him with managing his anger.
This is how these cases should be handled: the child should be shown the tools he needs to stay in school, not shown the door.
Families rarely think of a school disciplinary action as an occasion to seek legal help, but legal representation can dramatically change the outcome for the child on that occasion and perhaps for the rest of his school career. Families and students should know that they have the right to a lawyer at a hearing where a vital right – the right to a public education – could be taken away. And lawyers should know that these are cases that can genuinely change lives, and, perhaps, can change the one-way street that is the school-to-prison pipeline.
The client’s name has been changed to protect confidentiality.
We are a non-profit law firm serving rural and small town Georgia.
We offer free legal services in civil cases to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. We have 11 offices around the state to serve people where they live.
Our clients have “high stakes” problems, such as domestic violence, eviction or foreclosure, denial of hard-earned benefits such as unemployment, inability to get critically needed health care or food aid, and many more.
Our work is to assure that low income people have access to justice and opportunities out of poverty.
When problems occur, we help our clients secure the support they need to get back on their feet — with dignity.
When rights are denied, we help our clients seek redress and have those rights assured. Click below to see a video on GLSP made on the occasion of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys Founders award ceremony.