Good news in the battle against corporal punishment in schools! But not everyone, especially some in Houston’s black community, agrees.
This week two teachers, a principal and a superintendent were charged in connection with an April 29 videotaped beating of a 13 year-old student at Houston’s Jaime’s House Charter School.
The cell phone video shows the teacher, 40 year-old Sheri Lynn Davis, throwing a desk and then attacking a cornered and crouching Isaiah Reagins. Other students can be heard laughing and clapping as Reagins is then dragged across the floor, repeatedly slapped, punched and kicked. The boy’s mother said her son suffered knots, bruises and a black eye from the attack.
Davis was placed on administrative leave on May 5, after the boy’s mother notified the school about the incident. Witnesses said Davis “snapped” after Reagins made fun of a special needs student. Several students told police officers that four or five teachers watched the incident and threatened them if the video ever went public.
Davis was later fired from the school and then issued a public apology during a press conference at her attorney’s office. She has been handed a felony charge for the beating and faces up to 10 years in prison.
But Davis is not alone.
Charges have been filed against teacher Gabriel Hahn Moseley who was in the room at the time but failed to report the incident. She too was fired from Jaime’s House after an investigation. School Superintendent Ollie Hilliard and Principal David Jones were also charged with failure to report child abuse. The misdemeanor charges against the trio carry a maximum punishment of one year in prison.
A spokesperson for Jamie’s House said both Jones and Hilliard were shocked by the charges against them and said they are without merit.
In a surprising turn of events, Isaiah Reagins’s grandmother has said that the incident is being blown out of proportion. She says she agrees with the charges against Davis, but does not approve of the charges against Moseley, Hilliard and Jones.
Now, some of Houston’s black communities, political leaders and activists are criticizing Harris County prosecutors for pursuing criminal charges against the school staff. They fear that the school, which serves 130 at risk teens, will be forced to close.
“These charges against Jones and Hilliard are just overreaching,” said community activist Deric Muhammad. “One child has already been hurt. We don’t want 129 other children to be hurt. We want to learn from what has happened to Isaiah. We don’t want what happened to be exploited.”
Harris County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Christina Garza said investigators hope to send a strong message with the charges.
“The message that we want to send to people, regardless of where they work or who they are, is to report any type of incident – especially one involving a student or child being beat or kicked or struck. Failure to do so is a crime,” Garza said.
I applaud Harris County officials for this move. And I understand why Houston’s black community is upset.
The fact that a black teacher had the audacity to beat a child in a classroom, that black teachers stood around and watched, a black superintendent and a black principal tried to cover up the incident, and black students clapped and applauded during the beating speaks volumes about the perverse embrace of violence against children in black communities and throughout the society.
Too many black children are growing up to accept violence as a part of life and too many black people hit children, endorse it or look the other way when it happens. When parents, teachers and childcare providers hit children those acts reinforce that violence serves a normal function in our communities. To tell black parents and guardians to abstain from hitting their children is one battle. But to make an entire community, a village of people, reprogram themselves into thinking that hitting children is a form of violence is another monster!
I see black children being slapped, popped, whipped, yanked, threatened and cussed at in public spaces all the time. Dare I say something to the parent and I will be derided and even threatened. I watch people turn away or look on horrified, helpless and afraid to say something.
Houston’s black community might be outraged at the charges, but maybe their negative reactions speaks to their own fear of losing the power to control defenseless children through their reliance on violent childrearing tactics, ones that have been transmitted through generations of African Americans since slavery. But the fact is, Davis, Moseley, Jones and Williams broke the law and they should be held accountable, just as we would expect if those perpetrators had been whites that attacked a black child.
The law requires teachers and other professionals who interact with children to report incidents or suspicion of child abuse to authorities within 48 hours. But herein lies another problem: this law which is designed to protect the safety of children, exists in states like Texas where corporal punishment is legal.
How can we expect teachers to report incidents or suspicion of abuse when they are also given consent to do the very same thing they are asked to combat? I hope this incident in Houston will be exploited to prove that very point.
Violence should be foreign to children in school, at the grocery store, on the bus, in church – everywhere!
SOURCE: The Defenders Online
A Civil Rights Blog of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund web site.
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