ARTICLE

“Above all, do no harm”

Some things that happen in school are just not right. It’s not right for a six-year old boy to be handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security officer because he “acted up” in school.

Some things that happen in school are just not right.

It’s not right for a six-year old boy to be handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security officer because he “acted up” in school.  

But that’s exactly what happened at the Sarah T. Reed Elementary School in New Orleans, part of the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD).

The Southern Poverty Law Center, of which Teaching Tolerance is a part, has brought a class action lawsuit against the RSD.

In case you’re thinking this was just one authority figure going off the deep end—well it wasn’t. According to the lawsuit, the school principal “provided a clear directive to all employees … that students were to be arrested and handcuffed if they failed to comply with school rules.”

Let’s go back to basics. 

In the United States, a free public education is a civil right. It’s not just for the benefit of the child getting schooled; public education enriches us all. We all gain from a capable, well-educated populace made up of productive individuals who have the skills, as adults, to participate in civic life.

When schools start to look more like prisons, we’ve lost our way. 

Everything and anything that happens at a school should meet a couple of simple tests: 

  1. Does it contribute to the education of the child and help create a productive, healthy, well-informed adult? 
  2. Does it contribute to a healthy, happy and open school climate?

Here’s an even more basic approach: Educators, like physicians, should be bound by the dictum, “Above all, do no harm.”

Legalized corporal punishment—even under the “best” of circumstances—fails on all counts.   

Worse, legal corporal punishment increases the risks of inflicting great harm in the name of order and school safety. That seems to be the case at Sarah T. Reed.