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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

Detention bench is at center of uproar


Toledo Public Schools and city police have begun an active discussion about student discipline and the actions of police officers in schools, in part because of a bench police used in a junior high to restrain students who were arrested, officials said yesterday.

“It's going to get real serious. We have to react to this. We have to take a stance on the discipline,” said Larry Sykes, school board vice president.

Dozens of police officers, who are stationed in schools, principals, and police and school administrators met Monday to discuss whether a discipline policy is consistent and appropriate throughout the district, officials said.

The meeting was called, in part, because the district received a complaint earlier this month about a bench being used by police at DeVeaux Junior High School to detain handcuffed students who were arrested, said Toledo police Chief Michael Navarre.

Superintendent Eugene Sanders said he ordered the bench removed as soon as he learned students were being handcuffed to it.

Chief Navarre said the bench, which was installed in November, 2002, was used to detain students who had been arrested, often for fighting with weapons, before they were transported or released to their parents.

“We've had instances where students have literally fled the building in handcuffs,” he said. Students, like other prisoners, he said, have been handcuffed to chairs to keep them from hurting themselves or others.

“They've actually picked up the chair and used that as a weapon. They've attempted to flee with the chair dangling behind them,” Chief Navarre said. “There are no detention cells in schools like we would have in a county jail or police station.”

Twila Page, secretary of the African-American Parents Association, said she notified Dr. Sanders about the bench after she saw it earlier this month during a visit to DeVeaux.

“The full scope of the damage that this chair has done to children constitutes a crime against humanity,” she said.

She has asked the district for a “hearing for the record” of anyone involved in the handcuffing of students to the bench.

“Anyone who knew that the handcuffing was taking place should not be allowed to work with children,” she said.

Mr. Sykes said yesterday that the board has launched its own investigation.

“If it was a result of an officer, his idea, or his concept, I don't want him in the schools,” Mr. Sykes said. “I want to get back to safe schools.”

Chief Navarre said he and Dr. Sanders planned a meeting with court officials to discuss student discipline and juvenile justice issues.

Quincy Lamb, father of one current DeVeaux student and one former student who was transferred to another school in the district, complained this week about the bench and about having police in schools.

“I think that the police department should not be in the schools - period. They should patrol outside the schools. They can't even stop sexual predators, kidnappers, other criminals that are lurking inside the schools and around the schools,” he said.

DeVeaux Principal John Mann could not be reached yesterday for comment.

He received a warning two years ago from the district's hearing officer after he held an assembly for failing and academically challenged students during which he asked the black males to stand up.

He then told them there was a strong correlation that they would be in jail or dead by an early age if they continue to fail in school, the hearing officer's report states.

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