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Georgia Board of Education reverses Liberty County ruling

According to a press release from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Georgia State Board of Education has reversed a decision by the Liberty County Board of Education to suspend a seventh-grade Black student from Lewis Frasier Middle School, ruling that the suspension violated his due process rights.  

Following a disciplinary hearing on February 3, 2022, that lasted less than 30 minutes, the student – who is referred to by his initials, A.K. – was suspended for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year. At the time of his suspension, A.K. was an A/B student with no prior disciplinary record.

The Georgia State Board of Education said A.K. was placed at Horizons Learning Center, an alternative school, for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year for Threat/Intimidation and Bullying (Cyber) in violation of the Liberty County Code of Conduct (“Code of Conduct”). The decision of the Local Board is now reversed and remanded with instructions to provide reasonable notice consistent with this decision and a new hearing.

According to the SPLC, A.K. was accused of sending threatening texts to another student despite testifying that he called the student afterward to let him know that he was not serious. The alleged incident took place off-campus during non-school hours. A.K. had no prior disciplinary issues before the alleged incident.

Last Thursday, the state board ruled that the Liberty County Board of Education deprived A.K. of his constitutional and statutory rights to due process by suspending him without reasonable and sufficient notice of the allegations against him, as required by law.  

The SPLC represented him during his appeal.

The state board ruling removes the disciplinary offense from A.K.'s record. It also reaffirms the important precedent protecting and preventing future students from being deprived of their due process rights.  

“School districts, like Liberty County, have become reliant and comfortable with suspending and expelling students without sufficient evidence or fundamental fairness, as required by law. Exclusionary discipline serves no pedagogical purpose and only perpetuates harm on our children," said Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s Children Rights Practice Group. “Across Georgia, as evident in this case, school disciplinary hearings are merely a sham exercise used to achieve a predetermined outcome based on an accused student’s presumption of guilt. The educational rights of students – disproportionately students of color – are routinely ignored and trampled by school districts that take advantage of a system where children typically lack access to a lawyer. We will continue to stand with students who are seeking educational justice,” Tafelski said. 

As the appeal process lingered on for months, A.K.’s mom paid to enroll him in a local private school, but he had to start the entire year over to ensure his credits would transfer.   Far too often, Black students like A.K. are funneled down the school to prison pipeline. In Liberty County, Black students represent 53.2% of students enrolled, but 66.5% of those who experience school suspensions. Even Black preschool students are suspended and expelled at rates that are higher than their white counterparts. 

A.K.’s mom hopes her son’s case can draw attention to intrinsic disparities that Liberty County students face.  “This has opened my eyes and ears to these issues. I have been having conversations with Black families across the county who have experienced educational injustices and are suffering in silence in fear of retaliation. But I am not scared, and I hope my son’s case can highlight the injustice in our school system so that future students are not similarly harmed,” she said.  

The Courier has reached out to Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry for any replies on the matter.

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