Legal Claim Seeks Districtwide Changes in Moreno Valley After Black Child with Disabilities is Handcuffed, Forcibly Detained by School Police

Calls for an end to harsh controversial practices which subject students to handcuffing, restraint, arrest, campus removal and hospitalization for non-threatening disability-related behaviors
Press Release

(Riverside, CA) On July 15, 2020, Disability Rights California, Barajas & Rivera APC, and Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund submitted a tort claim to the Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) on behalf of an 11-year-old Black student with disabilities who was discriminated against by school police. The claim gives formal notice to the District of the harm that the student endured and seeks to eliminate such discriminatory disciplinary practices and replace them with meaningful accommodations that protect and support not only students with disabilities, but all students.

The District fails students with emotional and behavioral disabilities by utilizing antiquated school police officer programs that fail to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities, often times, making matters worse by causing further harm.

As a result, students with disabilities--especially Black students with disabilities--continue to be subjected to handcuffing, restraint, campus removal, arrest, and temporary hospitalization for disability-related behaviors that pose no safety threat. In fact, the District’s failure to provide appropriate accommodations results in devasting consequences.

Over a four month period, a Black 11-year-old student with disabilities was handcuffed four times by school police officers for exhibiting disability-related behaviors that posed no safety threat.

The District knew this student has disabilities, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Opposition Defiant Disorder (ODD). Yet, the officers escalated matters by handcuffing him as punishment for disability-related “defiance.”

Today, a video of one of these handcuffing instances is being released. As shown in the video, school police officers handcuff this 4’8”, roughly 70 lb. student, pin him facedown, and press a knee into his back.

This preventable situation illustrates how the presence of law enforcement and the use of physical force in schools hurts and traumatizes students. In addition to seeking relief for this student, the filing also demands the District make systemic changes to ensure other students with disabilities, especially Black students, do not endure similar abuses in the future.

“My son did nothing wrong in these situations. A couple of smart comments get you thrown out of your seat, handcuffed, and kneed in the back. He’s just a little 11-year-old. The District needs to stop treating kids as if they are criminals. Schools need to change. Kids should feel protected when at school like they do when they’re at home. School police should not be involved, especially when they are not trained to deal with kids. Since this has happened to my son he tells me police do not like Black people. We need to change for the better of our community and show the kids we care,” said the child’s mother.

“Across California, schools are eleven times more likely to refer Black children with disabilities to police than white non-disabled children. As this student’s experience shows, MVUSD over polices students with disabilities, and Black students with disabilities in particular. Officers’ use of force against students creates a dangerous and traumatizing school environment,” says Lindsay Appell, Fellow, Disability Rights California.

“Police and school officials lied to us after aggressively snatching our son, an 11-year-old Black boy with disabilities, from his desk in his special education classroom and slamming him to the floor, using a knee on his neck to handcuff him. The officer said my son was acting threatening to staff, threatening to officers, and a threat to himself. Body camera footage shows he was just sitting at his desk with his head down. We are asking for immediate removal from duty of all the officers involved. We also want all resource officers to be removed from the school system. If my child’s story is not enough evidence that resource officers should not be in the school system, then everyone ask yourself, ‘What if this was my child?’ We want resource officers replaced with caring counselors, caring staff members, and more caring teachers,” says the child’s father.

"All students—including those with disabilities—have the right to feel safe at school. The reliance of MVUSD on police force is contrary to that right, and is harmful, especially for Black students,” reminded Malhar Shah, Staff Attorney for Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. 

“Over-zealous discipline policies, like those of the MVUSD, that place police into schools and encourage harsh tactics push students, especially Black students with disabilities, out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system for conduct that is typical adolescent behavior. Studies have shown that a child who has been suspended is more likely to be held back a grade, to drop out, to commit a crime, and/or to end up incarcerated as an adult,” says Maronel Barajas, Partner at Barajas & Rivera, APC.

Media Contacts:

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
916-504-5938
Melody.Pomraning@disabilityrightsca.org

Lawrence Carter-Long
Director of Communications
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
510-544-6555 ext 5256
LCarterLong@dredf.org

 

 

Disability Rights California (DRC) - Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org   

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) - Founded in 1979, is a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities and parents who have children with disabilities. DREDF works to advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development. Learn more at https://www.dredf.org 

Barajas & Rivera, APC - Is a plaintiff-side civil rights law firm focusing on disability access and special education. B&R believes in using the power of law to protect civil rights and advance justice. For more information visit: www.barajasriveralaw.com

Media Coverage

Full Video

Download video

A young child in handcuffs