When Mychal Bell had repetitive discipline problems, it was the school’s responsibility to notice, and to question whether he might have a disability that would require special education services. “IDEA requires all states to have a "comprehensive Child Find system" to assure that all children who are in need of...special education services are located, identified, and referred.” If a child has a discipline problem, one of the first things the school should do is consider having testing or evaluations done to see if the child might have a hidden learning disability that causes his frustration and/or an emotional problem which the school could address with counseling and/or a more structured environment. When you are 16 and still in school, educators are supposed to see you as a moldable human being, with potential, who deserves nurturing and redirection. And, an alternative school is a much better placement, a much more appropriate education, and a much less restrictive in environment than a jail.
No one is saying that the 6 young men who beat someone up should not have a consequence. Dropping all the criminal charges would not leave them without consequence. Dropping all criminal charges would bring the responsibility and the solutions back where they belong, at a school-based level. All of the actions, and even the relationships which created those actions, circled around school issues (including mistakes the school had made in its poor handling of previous situations.) So, the consequence for the students could have been and should have been school-based.
Much of the inherent racism can be seen in the fact that when the Jena 6 Students, who were black, caused harm, they were looked at as criminals. Though, when white students hung nooses, it was looked at as a childish prank, even though the real implication was a death threat to a group of other students. White people need to face the real implications of those hanging nooses: It was a cowardly, anonymous death threat to all black people in the area. But, that action was not treated as a crime. The white students who hung nooses were given a school penalty only. First they were threatened with expulsion, then that was watered down, and the noose-hangers were only suspended for a time.
But, when a white student was beat up, even though the victim attended a school function the same evening, the beating was portrayed as attempted murder and as a criminal act, that the government, and not the school, would judge and give out consequences for.
The fact that actions of the white students were dealt with at the school level, and the actions of the black students were taken to the criminal justice level shows the racism in the system and in how justice was applied.
I believe that it is subtle racism that allows white progressives and the media to have been confused into not seeing the schism in how the two sets of students were treated. It is inexcusable racism that the some in the community and in the media have been so willing to view the two sets of students as different--one set as childish pranksters who deserved another chance, the other set as criminals worthy of punishment in the adult criminal justice system. And, the media is an institution which should have access to legal consultants and other professionals who could have noticed the violations of education law.
Education Law for the Noose Incident
Education law also points to better ways for the school to have dealt with the white students that hung the nooses. Those children should not have just had a punishment, they should have had meaningful evaluations and/or some kind of class or therapy to address their behavior. And, the students who hung the nooses could have been placed in another school, so that all the black kids did not have to know that those threatening students were allowed back to potentially threaten them again.
I think it is important and difficult for white people to understand, but once the noose-hangers came back to school, they were still white, and the other kids were still black. So, people who really understand the racism that permeates our culture should realize that the noose hangers came back as overlords to the black kids. If you were black you could feel the injustice, and the fear that those children being in your school would invoke.
I am also surprised that neither the media nor the community have slowed down enough to realize that the noose incident could still be dealt with in the strong way that it should have been. There are very long statutes of limitations on civil rights laws. And, it might give more perspective to the situation, if Jena students (both the Jena 6 and other students) filed class action suits against the school and against government officials for their negligence in dealing with the noose incident. It seems clear that the school did not use due diligence to create safe schools in the manner called for by Louisiana Law RS 17:13.1; The Safe Schools Act of 1994; and The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. To white progressives who say “Dropping all charges against the Jena 6 condones violence,”, I say, “Not stopping now to demand civil rights litigation against the noose-hangers and the school condones hate crimes.”
As the news has pointed out many times, LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters made the choice that the nooses being hung--which is clearly a death threat--was not a crime, but to beat someone up was not only an adult crime, but was attempted murder. Those two views are not consistent logic. I was captured by the Jena 6 Demonstrator’s analysis, as quoted in the New York Times: “Latese Brown, 40, of Alexandria, La., saw it differently. ‘If you can figure out how to make a school yard fight into an attempted murder charge,’ she said, ‘I’m sure you can figure out how to make stringing nooses into a hate crime.’”
Education Law as applied to the rights of all the black students in the school
Also, if you think about it, you could say this: When the nooses were hung, every single black youth in that school was victimized, threatened and demeaned. The wounds went on for 3 months of various racial tensions, including an arson no one has accounted for. Since every student is entitled to a free and appropriate education, and since every student is entitled to a safe school with no bullying, every single black student in that school should have been given whatever it took to heal them: guidance counseling, outside therapy, peer counseling, a racism workshop with white students to try to heal the bridges. But, the school did not do that. They were negligent. They were stingy. They did not meet the needs of the black students who were victimized. So, when the black students do something wrong, we must also lay partial blame on the school, for the fact that the black students were traumatized, and the school did not do enough to heal them.
I cannot imagine going to school, as a black person, the day after a noose was hung in a tree. The closest I can think of is that one time, shortly after I was engaged to my Jewish husband, there was a threat made against my husband’s synagogue. For the High Holy Days, we all had to go to synagogue with a police car parked conspicuously in front of the building. And, we were told an undercover officer was there to watch us. I know that small bit of experience with the anger and fear that threats create can not compare to how black Americans feel everyday. But, that is the closest I ever got to being the object of a racial threat, and I would not recommend that feeling to anyone.
I will also note that, at least in my situation, the fears created by the threats were addressed by the government. The black students who attended school after the nooses were hung did not get that level of government service and protection.