Fair and Safe Schools

A child’s disability or medication taken for a disability can sometimes interfere with the capacity to learn, which results in “discipline” issues that teachers often do not understand or know how to handle. Suspending or expelling a child because of a disability is a common practice, though it is a federal violation. The Mississippi Center for Justice is working to ensure that all children with disabilities get the education they are entitled to. 

In the past, the educational power structure has been overwhelmingly on the side of the administrators, but by working with families and attending school discipline hearings, pro-bono attorneys can help create an improved balance in the educational power structure. This also sends a message to the schools and the community about compliance and students’ right to a good education. 

There is no quick solution to these ingrained, serious problems. To build up a pipeline of future resources, the Center is building a state-wide team of pro bono attorneys who will advocate for students and parents who need help challenging the local school district. 

Every child deserves the right to go to a quality school, to be taught by a quality teacher, to have adequate supplies and attend a high quality facility. That’s why the Center is holding school systems accountable for providing educational opportunities to all. 

Supporting Children with Disabilities: The Story of Tre Farmer

Sometimes a child’s disability, or medication taken for a disability, interferes with the capacity to learn and causes “discipline” issues that teachers do not understand or know how to handle. Suspending or expelling a child because of a disability is a federal violation. The Center is working to ensure that all children with disabilities get the education they are entitled to.

Tre Farmer is one of those students.

Tre, now 14 years old, attends school in Grenada. Tre is an honor roll student who likes school and enjoys playing basketball. He suffers from bipolar disorder. Tre was diagnosed with the condition, his medical records were shared with the school, but the school refused to acknowledge his special needs.

In 2011, Tre missed almost three weeks of school due to suspensions for “behavioral” issues. After several suspensions, he was ultimately expelled for arguing with a teacher. When his father, a retired law enforcement official, learned about this, he was outraged, but wasn’t sure what could be done.

Mr. Farmer knew a youth court counselor, who referred him to the Mississippi Center for Justice’s managing attorney and education director, Kimberly Merchant. She told Mr. Farmer that the school could not simply suspend Tre, that they were required to meet with Mr. Farmer and hold a hearing to determine whether or not Tre’s behavior was related to his disability.

“I don’t mind Tre being disciplined when he needs it, but I don’t want him to be abused,” Mr. Farmer said. “I wasn’t going to let him miss a year of school, but I could not afford an attorney. Having access to the Center and to Kim meant the world to me.”

Thanks to the Center’s intervention, Tre was allowed back in school. He takes medication regularly to help control his disability. He continues to make good grades, and is trying out for the basketball team.

Mr. Farmer is also being more proactive. Before the 2012 school year began, he met individually with each of Tre’s teachers. He says the seemed more aware of how to work with him, and he is optimistic about Tre’s future.