Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Mississippi school children continue to suffer physical abuse at the Oakley and Columbia training schools, according to monitor Joyce L. Burrell's report. For the fifth time in five quarterly reports, Burrell reports abuse of students and stalled progress in the state's efforts to reform the schools.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice documented chronic neglect and abuse at the training schools, including boys and girls as young as 10 being hog-tied, beaten, choked and shackled to poles. Students were also deprived of education and adequate medical care. Three federal lawsuits against the state led to a consent decree that required wide-ranging reforms. For the past 18 months, Burrell has monitored the state's compliance, issuing quarterly reports.
"I am still very concerned about the status of progress, mostly because of the inability to staff the Oakley Training School adequately," Burrell wrote, explaining that despite hiring efforts, so many staff had left that Oakley made no progress in adding staff over the last quarter.
In her last report, Burrell complained about indifference from the state's Department of Human Services, and she called for emergency hiring and retention measures to address staff shortages. Now, three months later, she repeats that call. "I thought more progress would have been made and that the issue … would have been resolved. … I still worry about the importance the children and youth impacted by this consent decree and settlement agreement hold in the list of priorities for DHS and the state leadership team," Burrell wrote.
Burrell also called for the state to appoint an ombudsman to collect student complaints of physical and verbal from staff, advice the state ignored last quarter. Although she notes some progress, Burrell reports that students continue to direct complaints to lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center rather than the school itself because they fear retaliation.
Although the state made some progress in addressing student's mental health needs, students with disabilities are often harshly disciplined for behaviors that arise from their disabilities.