Mom Says Schools Violate Her Son’s Rights

     (CN) – A new zero-tolerance policy adopted by the City of Richmond, Va.’s public schools violates the civil rights of at-risk youths, the mother of a student barred from school claims.
     The Richmond City Public Schools adopted its zero-tolerance policy prior to the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Under the terms of the policy, students who violate the policy are barred from attending the district’s public schools and instead must be home schooled.
     In a complaint filed in the city circuit court on October 21, Angela Watkins claims the policy is carried out in a heavy-handed manner that offers the affected student and their parents no opportunity to be heard or appeal.
     She says not only has her son, identified as J.C. in the complaint, been excluded from the classroom, he’s also now receiving a substandard education because he only receives 10 hours of tutoring every week.
     Watkins contends the policy violates state law and the due process clauses of both the Virginia and United States constitutions.
     According to the complaint, J.C.’s travails began on June 27, 2015, during an afternoon of riding his bicycle on the blacktop of an elementary school near the home he shared with his mother and brother.
     J.C. was hanging out with three other students, who were also riding bicycles, when it started to rain. They initially sought shelter under an awning at the school, when one of the students noticed the door was ajar. She immediately dared J.C. and the other students to go inside with her.
     All of the students entered the school, Watkins says. Once inside, they ran through the hallways and exited through the front door, where they were stopped by several police officers.
     Due to their ages, two of the students were driven home by police and released to the custody of their parents. J.C. and another 12 year old were arrested.
     In juvenile court, a Richmond City police officer filed an affidavit that claimed J.C. had entered the school with the intent of committing another crime.
     Watkins says this was flatly untrue and noted that her son had no prior contact with the juvenile court. Nevertheless, J.C.’s case is still pending.
     On Aug. 24, 2015, Watkins says, she received a letter from Angela Ransom Jones, the school district’s director of student services, informing her the district had been notified J.C. had been charged with burglary, and that he would be reassigned to home schooling.
     “Please note, this placement will remain in effect until Richmond Public Schools has received notification regarding the outcome of the petition,” the letter said.
     Watkins says J.C. has been homeschooled since the start of the school year, and that he not only receives just 10 hours per week of educational services, these services only focus on four key subjects: English, math, history and science.
     As a student at Binford Middle School, his mother says, J.C. would have had seven class per day, including physical education and two elective classes.
     In addition, Watkins says, he son would have received free breakfast and lunch.
     She also says J.C. planned to play football, basketball and baseball at Binford, “but he was excluded from participating in or attending any school-sponsored activities.”
     J.C.’s next court date is Oct. 26, 2015, but his mother says even if his charges are reduced or dismissed and he is deemed eligible to return to a regular public school, the district’s policy will still bar him from attending Binford.
     “Therefore,” she says, “RPS’ illegal conduct is capable of repetition for J.C., and will continue to harm other similarly situated students.”
     Watkins asks the court to declare that the district policy violates both the Virginia and U.S. constitutions; that it require the district to provide students and their families with a mechanism for appeal before assigning the student to home schooling; and that the policy be amended to ensure that any student assigned to home schooling receive an education comparable to the one they would have received in class.
     She is represented by Lisa Bennett of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, Va.
     The Richmond City School Board did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Courthouse News.

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