By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Despite the many references to the Meridian Public School District in a Department of Justice lawsuit against several state and local officials, the school district itself has remained out of the line of fire in the investigation and resulting litigation.
Accusing officials of conducting a school to prison pipeline, DOJ filed a lawsuit in October against the city of Meridian, its police department, Lauderdale County and its two youth court judges, as well as the Mississippi Department of Human Services Youth Services Division.
The lawsuit alleges that students in trouble with the judicial system have been deprived of their constitutional rights and have been jailed for violating probation conditions over relatively minor infractions, such as talking back to teachers, flatulence and dress code violations.
The lawsuit mentions that these are students in the Meridian Public School District but the district itself is not named as a defendant.
Dr. Alvin Taylor, superintendent of the Meridian Public School District, said he started making discipline policy changes almost immediately when he began his job in July 2011, months before DOJ started its investigation.
In a recent interview, Taylor said although the school district is not a part of the lawsuit, there are still things he cannot discuss about the district’s ongoing talks with DOJ.
The school district is working on compliance through a DOJ consent decree, which is a result of the investigation.
Taylor said he couldn’t discuss details of the consent decree and
previous policy changes with regard to discipline.
“They looked at the schools. They see as of July 1, 2011 that we've made drastic changes in the school system. We have been excluded from the lawsuit and the DOJ is working with us,” Taylor said. “They want to be a part of the changes that we are making. We're sitting down with them and discussing what direction we're going to continue going."
However, Taylor emphasized that no final decision has been made by the school board.
“Nothing has been resolved, it's still pending litigation,” he said.
Without getting into specifics, Taylor said there were a lot of changes made.
"We've changed our discipline policies, our procedures in the district,” Taylor said. "When I got here in the summer of 2011, I made a lot of changes during
that period. We basically changed how we did a lot of things — how we handled discipline, how we handled academics, how our administrators handled procedures in their buildings.
“By the time DOJ came in here in November, December last year, they saw all the changes that we had made and they were happy with what we were doing."