SPLC, MPS settle lawsuits over expelled students

SPLC, MPS settle lawsuits over expelled students
The Southern Poverty Law Center said Tuesday it has reached an agreement with Montgomery Public Schools to settle two lawsuits filed on behalf of expelled Lee High School students. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Montgomery County Board of Education has agreed to settle two lawsuits filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of two Lee High School students expelled after a school shooting in 2019, the SPLC said Tuesday.

The agreements came during a special meeting vote of the MCBOE on Feb. 5.

The SPLC brought its suits in early 2020 following the Feb. 2019 gymnasium shooting at Lee High School that led to the two friends’ arrests. They were seen on a recording exchanging a cell phone moments after the incident but were interrogated and charged with possessing a handgun.

The organization said the students had a cellphone, not a gun, and added that even after they were acquitted in juvenile court, the Montgomery County Board of Education refused to allow them to return to school.

During the nine-day period in which the students were being held at a youth facility, the SPLC said the school board initiated disciplinary proceedings and expelled both students. The suit was filed on the ground that the students were denied their Constitutionally protected due process rights.

SPLC officials said the settlement it reached with MPS includes an agreement to “expunge the disciplinary expulsions completely from the students’ academic records and provide them with thousands of dollars’ worth of additional educational services to make up for the 14 months they were excluded from school.”

One of the students, identified by SPLC as JaMarius Patterson, said in an SPLC statement that “people should care about this case because the same way it affected me, could happen to another student. I wish the school would have went off what the judge said when I was innocent.”

“Without due process, our clients were excluded from a public education based on a false accusation and without a hearing to prove their innocence,” said SPLC Staff Attorney Claire Sherburne. “We know that our clients’ experiences are not unique because we continue to litigate and investigate similar cases across the state.”

SPLC said Alabama is the only state in the Southeast without statutory due process protections for students who face long-term suspension or expulsion.

“Exclusionary discipline is an ineffective and antiquated strategy,” Sherburne said, “but so long as schools continue with this practice there must be a state law to ensure a fair and consistent disciplinary process for all students. It’s time to reimagine the way schools discipline students in Alabama.”

MPS has not yet released a statement regarding the settlements.

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