Attorney Chris Burks today filed a class action lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court alleging that “[t]he Little Rock School District and the Pulaski County juvenile system operate an unconstitutional school-to-prison pipeline that disparately impacts African-Americans.”
According to the lawsuit, “African-Americans in Little Rock School District School District schools are more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions for the same offense, more likely to be arrested for school-based offenses, and once detained are more likely to stay detained longer than other races. School infractions are over 500% more likely to happen to African-Americans than white students.”
The plaintiffs are mother Rochelle Anderson of Little Rock and her juvenile son, a student in the LRSD, named here as “Anthony Doe.” According to the lawsuit, he “has been suspended and arrested at school, with a pending charge in the Pulaski County juvenile system. He has experienced repeated exclusionary discipline and classroom removals for non-criminal behavior.”
The named defendants are Michael Poore in his official capacity as superintendent of the LRSD; Lauran Robertson, Robert Bonnette, Jr., Martha Carder and Roger Rasico, Jr., in their official capacities as Pulaski County Juvenile Intake officers; and Pulaski County.
The lawsuit runs through a number of statistics regarding school discipline since the state takeover the LRSD. A few examples:
From June to December of 2018, there were 54 school-based arrests at 86.5% African-American Little Rock McClellan and only 5 school-based arrest at 52.1% African-American Little Rock Central, 7 even though the Defendants have long been on notice that over several years prior the likelihood that an out-of-school suspension happened to an African-American student as compared to a Caucasian student was 5.1 times greater.
[I]n the 2018-2019 school year, there were 254 out-of-school suspensions at McClellan High School taking students away from the learning environment. As is expected when students are missing so much instructional time, the school’s Value-Added Growth score was 77.58, indicating students, on average, are losing ground compared to their expected growth in achievement.
Put in context, there were 26 out-of-school suspensions for every 100 AfricanAmerican students at McClellan High School in 2018-2019. Importantly, students placed in suspension or arrested are more likely to dropout. Thus as is expected when there are so many arrest and suspensions, in 2018-2019, the 4-Year Graduation Rate at Little Rock McClellan was 73.02%, well below the 2018 statewide average of 89.2%
The lawsuit asks the court to order the LRSD to revise its school discipline policy and training; to order the district to contract with an outside provider to track and research school discipline, ensure that the system is not disparately impacting African-American students, and report back to the court; to order Pulaski County to provide additional alternatives to detention; and order the LRSD and Pulaski County to allocate an increased budget for diversion programs.
The lawsuit also states that taxpayers should be refunded public monies spent supporting school-based arrests, spending that the lawsuit alleges is arbitrary, discriminatory, and illegal.
The class action suit asks the court to certify a class of “all African-American children suspended or expelled who were also arrested at school and thus in the juvenile system within the past three years.”