Class action lawsuit over trauma and disability in Compton schools

The full story is at NPR. (Perhaps especially relevant and of interest to those following broader discussions going on in academia regarding trauma and student accommodations.)

An unprecedented, class action lawsuit brought against one Southern California school district and its top officials could have a big impact on schools across the country. . .

The complaint is a terrifying read — of kids coping with physical and sexual abuse, addicted parents, homelessness and a constant fear of violence.

One of the plaintiffs, listed as 15-year-old Phillip W., says he witnessed his first murder when he was 8.

“Somebody got shot in the back of the head with a shotgun,” the boy explains in a video on a website dedicated to the case. “And they threw him over the rail, and he was just sitting there bleeding, blood all down the sewer line. It was a horrifying sight.”

The complaint says Phillip has witnessed more than 20 shootings and, in 2014, was hit in the knee by a bullet.

What’s this have to do with Compton’s schools?

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them. The plaintiffs want Compton Unified to provide teacher training, mental health support for students and to use conflict-mediation before resorting to suspension. . .

This idea — of treating trauma in children as a disability — is new, though the problem is not, says Ko. “Twenty-five percent of kids will have experienced a traumatic event before the age of 16.”

Not all of those children will struggle in school. But many will — and not just in Compton.

4 thoughts on “Class action lawsuit over trauma and disability in Compton schools

  1. And they are not traumatized just living in the neighborhood? If politics and law support the right to membership in violent gangs, how are schools to be the fall out institution?

  2. I think the comments, especially the last 3 or 4, on the NPR article are worth reading. They point out that there’s a clear cause that should be addressed.

  3. I agree the comments were interesting, and I agree there’s causes that should be addressed — but I also think it’s important to treat symptoms too. There are some similar issues in a school district near me, so it will be interesting to see what happens in this case.

  4. Hey! That’s my friend Wade Wilson in the comments! A wonderful person and talented rapper from Trenton, NJ! Perhaps he came up in the “conscious” tradition (that Myisha Cherry talks about in her review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the Worlds and Me”) but Wade’s voice is even more real than “conscious rappers….”

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