Houston School Board Refuses To Ban Suspensions

suspended

Despite the fact that school boards across the country have banned school suspensions, Texas has yet to join the growing trend. Five Houston ISD school board members voted to keep school suspensions as a last resort for teachers who are “deal(ing) with kids who they can’t contain” in pre-kindergarten through second grade classrooms. The rejected plan also included provisions for a team of specialists and $2 million in classroom management training for HISD teachers.

In lieu of the ban, HISD decided to retain school suspensions of second grade and under students as a “last resort.” Of 2,673 reported disciplinary incidents during the 2014-2015 school year, 87 percent involved youth considered to be economically disadvantaged or at risk, and 84 percent were male. 70 percent of the youth disciplined with suspension were African-American even though black youths comprise only 25 percent of the HISD student body.

The school board’s initial proposal was laudable. It proposed the suspension ban as a positive approach to deescalating conflict in classrooms. It called for more accountability and more disciplinary data in an effort to develop school-specific annual plans to reduce misbehavior and rectify inequities. Encouragingly, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier called for a more empathetic approach to discipline, saying, “We understand better now than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children. We must take a hard look at how we are handling these issues to ensure we’re not contributing to an already stressful situation for these students.” Furthermore, schools with lower suspension rates have been found to have higher achievement rates and narrowed achievement gaps, while schools with higher suspension rates see the opposite effect.

The school board’s decision was not without dissent. Other board members and teachers voiced opposition to suspension. HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones called suspension an “ineffective” deterrent. Voicing concern for students at-risk for the school-to-prison pipeline, she said, “They go home. There’s nothing at home for them. They come back and it’s even worse. I cannot vote for continuing to perpetuate the pipeline to prison, not just for African-American children, but for any child.”

A similar article appeared earlier this week on Houston Public Media.

Update on Police, Tasers & Teenagers

Taser photo II

In August, 2013, a Miami Beach police officer caught Israel Hernandez-Llach spray-painting a shuttered McDonald’s on North Beach.  After a brief foot chase, Miami Beach Officer Jorge Mercado shot Herandez-Llach with his department-issued Taser.  The teen later died at Mount Sinai Medical Center.  After a six-month-long medical examination, medical examiners stated Hernandez-Llach died of heart failure from the “energy device discharge.”  This finding is unusual because the device has never been cited in an official cause of a death report in Florida.  Instead, most of the local Taser-related deaths have been ruled as cases of “excited delirium,” a rare brain malfunction often caused by cocaine or mental illness that said to transform victims into violent, feverish attackers.

Medical investigators conducted extensive toxicology exams and tests at the University of Miami’s Brain Bank to explore whether Hernandez-Llach had experienced excited delirium.  The teen’s body temperature was over 102 degrees more than an hour after he was pronounced dead, which can be a sign of delirium.  However, Hernandez-Llach was not enraged during the brief foot pursuit with police and his toxicology report did not find any drugs other than marijuana.

Medical examiners rarely list a stun gun as contributing to a death because Arizona-based Taser International has been aggressive in suing medical examiners that do cite the brand.  In 2008, Taser successfully removed the stun gun as a cause of death in three cases.  In Hernandez-Llach’s case, Miami-Dade’s medical examiner did not specifically cite the Taser brand, and instead referred to a “conducted electronic device discharge.”

Taser has previously suggested officers avoid shooting suspects in the chest because of the risk of cardiac arrest in some people.  Further, in 2012, a small study in an American Heart Association publication found that the weapon can cause heart failure in some healthy people.  Unfortunately for Hernandez-Llach, this suggestion was not heeded.  Additionally, since February 5th, three more Miami-Dade men have died after being tasered by police.

Read more here:  http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/06/3978777/teen-shot-by-miami-beach-police.html

Police, Tasers & Teenagers

Policeman with taser

Police use Tasers as a non-lethal alternative to firearms.  However, Tasers used against teenagers often result in permanent injury or death.  In 2012, the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International reported that Taser devices used by U.S. law enforcement has killed at least 500 people.  In November 2013, a Texas high school student suffered a severe brain injury after a Texas sheriff’s deputy tasered him while the teen was trying to break up a fight in a school hallway.  After being tasered, Noe Nino de Rivera struck his head on the floor as he fell and suffered a sever brain hemorrhage.  The unconscious teen was immediately handcuffed, but it is alleged the police delayed in calling for medical assistance.  Eventually, the teen was airlifted to a hospital and put into a medically induced coma.  The teenager’s mother, Maria Acosta, has sued the Bastrop County, its police department, and its school district after the tragic accident.  Acosta is seeking medical expenses and damages for use of excessive force, failure to train and discipline, and civil rights and education code violations.

Similarly, Andre Little, an African-American teenager, is suing the city of Richmond, CA after a police officer allegedly tasered him in the testicles.  According to Little, he was waiting for a train when Officer Kristopher Tong moved toward him and asked if he was involved with a group of teens that had been previously detained for questioning.  After denying any association with the group, Officer Tong told Little to move to another section of the platform.  After Little refused to move, Tong and another officer allegedly pulled him to the ground, tasered Little in the scrotum, and then placed him on his stomach and tasered his back.  U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled that Little did not sufficiently prove that Tong singled the teen out or was motivated by race; however, Little will be offered an opportunity to amend his suit.

Likewise, an 18-year-old graffiti artist, Israel Hernandez-Llach, died after being tasered by a Miami Beach police officer on August 10, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida.  Hernandez-Llach, who had other artworks on display in Miami art galleries, was spray-painting a McDonald’s restaurant when the police ordered him to stop.  A brief foot pursuit ensued, ending in the police tasering Hernandez-Llach after he refused to stop running.  Sadly, the young man died shortly after being tasered.  Further, according to the family’s attorney, Jason Kreiss, Hernandez-Llach would have likely only faced a few hours of community service for the offense of spray-painting, further demonstrating the disparity between the offense and the result of using a Taser against a teenager.

Lastly, during “Career day” at Tularosa New Mexico Intermediate School in 2012, a police officer used his Taser gun on a 10-year-old boy to show him what cops do to people who don’t follow orders.  Allegedly, Officer Chris Webb of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, asked a group of boys if they would like to clean his patrol unit.  A number of boys said that they would; however, R.D. jokingly responded that he did not want to clean the patrol unit.  Officer Webb then allegedly pointed his Taser at R.D. and said, “Let me show you what happens to people who do not listen to the police.”  Next, the officer fired two barbs from the Taser at R.D.’s chest.  Then, instead of calling emergency medical services, Officer Webb pulled out the barbs and took the boy to the school principal’s office.  Due to the incident, R.D. has scars and has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Rachel Higgins, R.D.’s guardian ad litem, has sued the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Officer Webb and is seeking punitive damages for the boy for battery, failure to render emergency medical care, excessive force, unreasonable seizure, and negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention.

These are only a few of the numerous instances when Taser use has gone horribly wrong.  This leads to several questions:

  • Are Tasers inappropriate to use against juveniles?
  • Should school police be banned from using Tasers against juveniles?
  • Is it appropriate to use Tasers when results from their use are unpredictable?

Photo:  A policeman with the Taser X26 model.  (AFP Photo / Jean-Pierre Muller)