ACLU asks schools to not suspend, expel students involved in riots

Coalition doesn't want school system to penalize teenagers who were arrested in last week's rioting.

A coalition of youth and juvenile justice advocates called on the city school system Thursday to refrain from suspending or expelling teenagers arrested in last week's rioting in Baltimore.

In the days after the melee outside Mondawmin Mall, which sparked rioting in other parts of Baltimore, city schools CEO Gregory Thornton said that students who participated in the incidents would face consequences.

The Coalition to Reform School Discipline — which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Maryland Disability Law Center, Advocates for Children and Youth, and Office of the Public Defender — issued a joint statement asking the school system to employ "restorative practices," such as community service and anger management counseling, rather than expulsion.

They noted that state discipline regulations were revised recently with the aim of keeping more students in school.

They said "unique circumstances" may have contributed to the unrest, such as heavily militarized police, suspended bus service at Mondawmin, the arrests of innocent bystanders, and the throwing of bricks and debris back at students by police.

"We hope that this important moment in history will be used as a teachable one, and call on Dr. Thornton, and other administrators, to exercise the utmost care and consideration as they make any disciplinary decisions," the statement said.

In a letter to the public the day after the rioting, Thornton wrote that he was "deeply angered" and wanted to "assert in the strongest possible terms that the students who engaged in violence on Monday will be held accountable."

"We are working to identify those students, who will experience consequences in full accordance with the law and City Schools' code of conduct," Thornton said.

He also said that a group of 75 students walked out of Frederick Douglass High School at 3 p.m. on the day of the rioting, about an hour before dismissal time, and those students would face consequences.

On Thursday, the city school system declined to answer questions. Thornton also declined a request for comment.

Instead, the district said in a statement that it was "cooperating with authorities in their investigation of last week's incident and conducting our own exploration into any potential violations of the code of conduct."

"We cannot offer additional information as our review is continuing," the statement concluded.

Jenny Egan, a juvenile public defender in Baltimore City, said her office is representing one student who has been asked not to return to school, per a law that allows students to be excluded from school because they are considered a risk to public safety.

The public defender's office is preparing to challenge the decision.

"Schools should take care of school-based incidents," Egan said. "And these students, no matter what happens outside of school, are entitled to a free and appropriate education."

Moreover, Egan said, none of the cases against juveniles have gone to trial so there's no proof that students pose a risk to public safety.

"That rush to criminalize all childish behavior contributes to some of the systemic problems we see in impoverished communities, and what we see in Baltimore City," Egan said.

The public defender's office has criticized the high rate of juvenile arrests that happen in schools.

The office found that in 2013, 90 percent of the state's in-school arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system were in Baltimore. Egan followed 152 cases in the 2013-2014 school year and found that 73 percent were either dismissed, diverted to a program such as teen court or found to be non-delinquent. Only two of the students arrested were found guilty of a felony offense, she said.

Sixty juveniles were arrested during protests or rioting between April 25 and May 3, according to Baltimore police.

The public defender's office said some juveniles as young as 12 were held unnecessarily in a concrete cell when they should have been released to their families.

Between April 27 — when students confronted officers outside Mondawmin Mall — until April 29, the public defender's office said police arrested 49 juveniles, 39 of whom should have been released to their parents, either because they were never charged or their release was recommended.

Juveniles charged with nonviolent offenses and those without records should never see the inside of the detention center, said Melanie Shapiro, head of the public defender's office's juvenile division.

"It damages kids. It's harmful for them," she said.

Eight juveniles are still being detained, said Eric Solomon, a spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Services. Those cases are being reviewed by the state's attorney's office, he said, and they will be held until their next hearing, which is usually within 30 days.

In cases related to the protests, he said, the charges include burglary, robbery, destruction of property, disturbing the peace, assaulting the police, or violating the curfew.

The juveniles were held because of the unrest, Solomon said, adding that they must be released to a parent or guardian.

"This is a situation that doesn't occur too often in Baltimore. It was a state of emergency. We protected the youth," he said. "Any other time, if they were going to be released, we would do it. We need a guardian to come pick them up. During this time, to get around the city, it was very difficult. We made a decision to hold on to the kids until a judge could hold on to their case."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

egreen@baltsun.com

jkanderson@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
88°