The Montgomery County Board of Education on Feb. 5 voted to approve settlement agreements with the Southern Poverty Law Center over two lawsuits on behalf of two Lee High School students expelled after false accusations. The two students were denied their due process rights and expelled after being falsely accused of possessing a gun on school campus in 2019, according to a press release by the SPLC on Tuesday.
The board has agreed to expunge the disciplinary expulsions from the students’ academic records and provide them with thousands of dollars’ in additional educational services to make up for the 14 months they were excluded from school, according to the release.
The two students were expelled after a shooting at Robert E. Lee High School in February 2019, when a 17-year-old boy was shot inside the school’s gym. Both were arrested and charged with possession of a handgun, and both were later acquitted of criminal charges by the Montgomery County Juvenile Court. Even after the students were acquitted in juvenile court, the school board refused to allow them to return to school, according to SPLC.
“People should care about this case because the same way it affected me, could happen to another student,” JaMarius Patterson, one of the student plaintiffs, said in a statement. “I wish the school would have went off what the judge said when I was innocent.”
“Without due process, our clients were excluded from a public education based on a false accusation and without a hearing to prove their innocence,” said SPLC staff attorney Claire Sherburne in a statement. “We know that our clients’ experiences are not unique because we continue to litigate and investigate similar cases across the state. Exclusionary discipline is an ineffective and antiquated strategy, but so long as schools continue with this practice there must be a state law to ensure a fair and consistent disciplinary process for all students. It’s time to reimagine the way schools discipline students in Alabama.”
Alabama is the only state in the Southeast without statutory due process protections for students facing long-term suspension or expulsion.