News & Media

Group aims to stop school officers from using mace on students

BIRMINGHAM - AL -

Discipline procedures in Birmingham schools are generating  a firestorm of reaction. Macing took the spotlight Tuesday night. A lawsuit trying to stop it topped the discussion at the "Faith in Action" conference.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tells us there have been nearly 200 macings in Birmingham City Schools since 2006. It says that's the highest rate in the country. The group is fighting a legal battle in an effort to find another way to handle school discipline.

"She was not fighting, nor did she have a weapon," Porcha Stearnes, a student who was maced said of her sister. "I heard my sister hollering. I ran to help her. That's when she was maced a second time."

It's a story no mother wants to hear.

"I guess he assumed she was doing something wrong or whatever and he spun her around and she said the next thing she knew, she had mace in her face," Latonya Stearnes, mother said.

Latonya Stearnes' daughters were maced by campus security officers - over what she says was a verbal argument.

"If I knew it was a possibility it could happen, I would have never enrolled them in Birmingham City Schools," Stearnes said.

Now their argument is wrapped up in a  class action lawsuit aiming to stop mace from being used in Birmingham high school classrooms.

"They have invited officers into these schools without providing them with adequate training on how to work with youth," Ebony Howard, Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center said.

Birmingham School Board member, Virginia Volker tells us, the high rate of macings points to the larger problem of school violence.

"I want to get to the point where we do not have to have mace because there has got to be ways to settle their disagreements  without resorting to violence," Virgina Volker, Birmingham School Board said.

Birmingham Faith in Action - members say, many of the macings are result of fist fights and arguments. They told us, several students have been hospitalized.

"We need to come up with more effective ways to address issues of student discipline in a way that is not harmful," Dr. Patricia Outlaw, Birmingham Faith in Action said.

"When things like this happen, it affects them the rest of their lives," Stearnes said.

 

Birmingham Faith in Action - is a group representing churches from around the city. Tuesday night, it held its first big conference aiming to highlight important city concerns.  The group says, by talking about issues like macing, they hope to generate change in local classrooms.