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Appeals Court: Durham schools' gang policy has problems

Posted October 21, 2008

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— The North Carolina Court of Appeals has struck down a lower court's ruling that Durham Public Schools' gang policy is specific enough to be constitutional.

The appeals court sent the case back to Durham Superior Court for more action on claims that rules implemented under the policy need to clarified for students to understand what they can and cannot do.

The judges pointed out that rules about specific behaviors were never made part of the case.

The decision, filed Tuesday, stems from a lawsuit accusing the school system of targeting black students.

The complaint, filed more than two years ago, claimed former school Superintendent Ann Denlinger and the Board of Education violated the civil rights of black students by suspending them without due process.

In a 2-1 decision, the court threw out many of the lawsuit's claims, but sided with students overall. "We reverse that portion of the trial court's order dismissing [the students'] claim that the gang policy is unconstitutionally vague," the judges wrote. However, the court upheld some parts of Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson's October 2006 ruling that tossed out the complaint.

North Carolina Central University law professor Patti Solari, who is representing students and their families in the case, said the district's gang policy needs to better clarify what constitutes a gang violation.

The policy specifies certain behaviors, such as wearing jewelry or clothing affiliated with a gang or defacing property with a gang symbol, but it does not go into detail about the behaviors.

"It really left the students sort of being forced to guess when they got dressed in the morning if their blue shirt or red shirt would be considered gang-related attire," Solari said.

Ann Majestic, an attorney for the school board, said that coming up with a specific, written gang policy is difficult because gang symbols are always changing. Thus, the policy has to change with it, she said.

A copy of what violates the policy is in each principal's office, Majestic said.

"They say that. I've never seen one," Solari said.

But, she said, in fairness, she did not ask for that list once the case was thrown out in trial court and moved to an appeal.

Part of the appeals court's ruling pointed out that no one ever made specific rules part of the case, so the judges could not say whether they were too vague or not.

With Tuesday's ruling, the gang policy will be revisited.


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  • Dr. Dataclerk Oct 22, 2008

    Children have the rights that there parents and society allows them to have until they turn eighteen. And after that, they have full rights.

    Abuse the child/student and then my friend you will find out real quick the child/student rights. Thought you may want to know that. So they do have rights whether you reconize that or not.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Oct 22, 2008

    The schools have all these rules concerning dress codes and lets say the rules are followed during school hours. But the moment there is a football game or other activity on campus, the students (girls) come almost too exposed leaving nothing to the imagination. Of course the boys arrive at the events too, with their bagging pants showing all the under-clothes. These students should be stop at the doors or gates and not be allowed in. If you are going to have these so-called dress codes, then it should apply to anything happening on the school campus. If the parents don't care how their children/student is dressing, then by all means the school should take charge and simply say: not allowed and you cannot enter.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Oct 22, 2008

    Require uniforms. No jewelry, no cell phones, no Ipods. Make the policy absolute with no gray areas and no exceptions.

    You think this will solve everything. Think again. It will solve nothing.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Oct 22, 2008

    anyone can show me where it says children in the Constitution, then I will say good. But as someone who has read the entire document, it is not in there.

    Maybe. But I feel RESPECT should come from the students as well as from the adults on campus. RESPECT is not one-sided. It goes both ways. This is one of the problems in our schools, not giving respect to one another. Seems to me wearing uniforms for everyone is not solving the problem. Some kids live in better homes than others. What are you going to do about that? As long as we blame everything on gangs, nothing can be solved. Continue to make excuses that goes no where. I do feel girls should not wear clothes that are high up and low cut and tight. Boys should not be showing their under-clothes. Ordinary clothes is OK if worn in the right manner. That is the problem. Students need to be taught to have respect for themselves and they will go on to have respect for others.

  • kopfjaeger2001 Oct 21, 2008

    School uniforms are the way to go. Schools are not designed to be fashion shows. And everyone thinks that children have freedom of speech. To these people read the Constitution. No where in there does it give this right to children or anyone who is not an adult. Children have the rights that there parents and society allows them to have until they turn eighteen. And after that, they have full rights. If anyone can show me where it says children in the Constitution, then I will say good. But as someone who has read the entire document, it is not in there.

  • jlh4jdj Oct 21, 2008

    You know what is sad I had a middle school student crying because her birthday party was ruined by a gang fight and she couldn't understand why it had to happen at her party, off school grounds. I agree with her gangs are a real problem everywhere. The school systems are at a no win here. If they crack down on the gangs then they will be drawn into court, because there is always someone (ACLU, NAACP, etc.)willing to back a lawsuit to keep themselves in the news. If they are not tough enough someone gets hurt.

  • OSX Oct 21, 2008

    Make it a part of Home Land Security and target them as terrorist. It is what the do; they just do it here in a smaller way.

  • OrdinaryCitizen Oct 21, 2008

    If a kid can't behave send him home with a ton of school work. Once the school work is completed his parents can petition for the kid to be put back in class. When I mean a ton of school work, I mean ALOT! Let the kid feel whats its like to want to be there.
    If the ACLU has a problem with this, make the Parent come to class to make him/her behave for a whole week. When the parents can't work it will be amazing to see the kid's behavior turn around quick.

    What so hard about this? You not paddling the kid, your making sure he/she learns a lesson and probably won't happen to often.

  • whocares Oct 21, 2008

    I agree with Taxman. When I was in school boys wore casual pants or jeans at the waist, no underwear showing, appropriate shirts and shoes that were tied. Girls wore dresses that were appropriate. There was no wearing of head gear, girls wearing jeans, or inappropriate behavior. Children who misbehaved were sent to the principal's office and their parent or parents were sent for. Maybe if parents had to go to school all the time to keep their children in class or from misbehaving they would get tired of it and discipline their children. However, I doubt it. Out of sight out of mind. Even if we start arresting the parents, the children probably wouldn't care anyway.

  • colliedave Oct 21, 2008

    Require standard attire kaki pants/dresses and white polo shirt/blouses. Allow headwear for religious reasons only. Anyone defacing school property is promptly caned