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WUNC's American Graduate Project is part of a nationwide public media conversation about the dropout crisis. We'll explore the issue through news reports, call-in programs and a forum produced with UNC-TV. Also as a part of this project we've partnered with the Durham Nativity School and YO: Durham to found the WUNC Youth Radio Club. These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and these generous funders: Project Funders:GlaxoSmithKlineThe Goodnight Educational FoundationJoseph M. Bryan Foundation State FarmThe Grable FoundationFarrington FoundationMore education stories from WUNC

Wake County Schools Accused Of ‘Racist,’ ‘Unfair’ Policing Practices in Complaint

The state's NAACP along with other civil rights groups held a press conference Thursday afternoon outside East Wake High School.
Reema Khrais

A group of parents, students and civil rights organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the Wake County School system and local police departments, alleging that the school system’s policing practices “violate the constitutional rights of students.”

The complaint claims that the police officers who work in Wake County schools unlawfully punish students and criminalize exceedingly minor misbehaviors such as “throwing water balloons, stealing paper from a recycling bin and play-fighting with a friend.” 

“Students' constitutional rights are routinely being violated as they are handcuffed, pepper-sprayed, tasered, tackled, interrogated, searched and arrested - treated like criminals, not children,” said Jen Story, an attorney with Advocates for Children’s Services.

Students' constitutional rights are routinely being violated as they are handcuffed, pepper-sprayed, tasered, tackled, interrogated, searched and arrested - treated like criminals, not children. - Jen Story, Advocates for Children's Services

The complaint contends that school system’s policing practices disproportionately harm African-American students and students with disabilities, violating the U.S. Constitution, Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.

It cites a statistic that African-American students make up about 25 percent of the school system’s population, yet account for 74.4 percent of school-based delinquency complaints.

Complainants filed the complaint on behalf of eight African-American students who were arrested by police at school. Seven of the students are classified as having disabilities.  Story and others say the complaint comes after years of internal affairs complaints and ignored pleas for change.

Student Speaks Out

At a press conference this week, Qasima Wideman, a senior in the Wake County School system and member of youth group NC HEAT, urged that schools find different ways to handle minor offenses:

A learning environment would much better be served by programs like restorative justice and peer mediation and peace circles than the militarization of schools.

According to a statement from school system, leaders are “reviewing the Department of Justice complaint at this time.”

The complaint was also filed against eight police departments - including Wake, Cary, Wake Forest, Garner and Raleigh - that assign school resources officers to schools.

Garner Police Department said they will work to address any issues once their agency reviews it. Other spokespeople from the Wake County Police Department and Raleigh Police Department said they could not comment because they have not yet officially received copies of the complaint.

Complainants include national and local organizations, such as the Advancement Project, American Civil Liberties Union, Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children, Education Justice Alliance, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and University of North Carolina’s Center for Civil Rights. 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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