The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Carolina has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the state’s “disturbing schools” law.
The group’s executive director Shaundra Young Scott told South Carolina Radio Network that the law needs to be better defined. “We wanted to do something that really attacks this law and force the legislature, hopefully through the courts, to actually make a clear cut determination on what it means,” Scott said. “The disturbing schools law is extremely vague.”
The ACLU claims that they found that hundreds of students, some as young as 7 years old, are being charged under a far-reaching and nebulous statute for behaviors like loitering, cursing, or undefined “obnoxious” actions on school grounds. The complaint argues the statute also has a chilling effect on students who speak out against policing abuses within the schools. It states black students are nearly four times as likely to be targeted under the law.
One plaintiff in the lawsuit is 19-year-old Niya Kenny of Richland County, who was charged with disturbing schools last year after she confronted then-school resource officer and former Richland County sheriff’s deputy Ben Fields after Field had dragged a classmate out of her desk. The event received national attention after another student recorded the incident on a cell phone.
Kenny, who is African-American, spoke up against the officer’s actions, recounting, “I was in disbelief and I started praying out loud. I said, ‘Isn’t anyone going to help her?’” Kenny was in turn arrested and hauled off to a detention center.
“After my experience, I felt humiliated and fearful of returning to school. I felt a lot of anxiety. It was a very difficult decision, but I decided not to return to Spring Valley High School,” said Kenny, who said she withdrew from school and entered a G.E.D. program.
The lawsuit names Attorney General Alan Wilson as a defendant, along with various chiefs and sheriffs of numerous law enforcement agencies across the state.