MERIDIAN – (AP) Officials in Meridian and Lauderdale County want details from the Justice Department to back up its allegations local students’ rights have been violated by jailing them for school infractions.
Earlier this month the Justice Department said officials in east Mississippi operate a “school-to-prison pipeline” that incarcerated students – mostly black and disabled – for minor school disciplinary infractions, including dress code violations and using profanity.
The department alleged Meridian students were routinely arrested without assessment of probable cause when police are called to a school. The students are then allegedly denied due process in Youth Court and later while on probation.
The department threatened to file suit if the practices aren’t halted. The Justice Department did not cite wrongdoing by the school system and the town itself denied any wrongdoing despite the findings from the justice department.
In a response mailed to the government this week, attorneys for the city and county said the claims of discrimination are based on opinions and assumptions not supported by the facts.
City Attorney Ronnie Walton and County Attorney Rick Barry said they wanted to see “detailed facts and any records or documents you have to support (the) allegations.”
The attorneys said Mississippi has a trained and experienced federal youth court monitor who personally investigates and inspects youth court and its proceedings and has never once reported or noted any of the alleged violations.
As to the idea that mostly African-American children are being affected by the violations, the investigation apparently ignored the fact that the city school system is majority African-American, the letter says.
“There is no selective disproportionate filing of charges against African-American children or any other race or ethnic group in Meridian or Lauderdale County,” the attorneys wrote.