The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia have filed a brief in the Georgia Supreme Court defending students’ due process rights and challenging “zero tolerance” policies that feed into the school-to-prison pipeline.
The brief was filed on behalf of “S.G.,” a high school student who defended herself in a fight on school grounds. The Henry County Board of Education expelled S.G. from school without giving her the opportunity to assert a defense for her actions.
“Students shouldn’t be deprived of their right to an education – a right guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution – without due process of law, including the right to argue self-defense,” said ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young. “The ACLU of Georgia is dedicated to combating the school-to-prison pipeline and challenging the unjust school policies that feed it.”
S.G., a client of Georgia Legal Services Program, lost her appeals to the Henry County Board of Education and the Georgia Board of Education, but won her appeal in the Superior Court, which found that S.G. was justified in using force because she acted in self-defense. This holding was affirmed by the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Henry County Board of Education has appealed the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.
The ACLU brief argues that schools must provide students with due process before depriving them of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to education, including an opportunity to assert that they acted in self-defense, which is the same defense that is available to adults in other contexts.
Furthermore, Georgia law makes clear that a student who defends herself in a fight or steps in to break up a fight has not broken a school rule.
“Zero-tolerance policies like the one adopted by the Henry County Board of Education funnel a disproportionate number of minority students into the school-to-prison pipeline and fail to make schools safer,” said ACLU of Georgia Legal Director Sean J. Young. “We urge the Court to affirm the decision by the Court of Appeals and protect students’ rights to due process and equal protection.”
Across the country and throughout Georgia, students of color are disproportionately disciplined in comparison to their white counterparts and are disproportionately represented in the school to prison pipeline. The adoption of zero tolerance policies is correlated with an increase in the number of students suspended and a disparate impact on minority students.
The ACLU was joined in its brief by Gwinnett SToPP and the Georgia Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).