Civil-Rights Activists Protest Teen’s Jailing

Paul J. Weber, AP, March 28, 2007

A teenager has been jailed for more than a year for shoving a teacher’s aide at her high school, sparking anger and heightening racial tensions in rural East Texas.

Shaquandra Cotton, now 15, who is black, says the teacher’s aide pushed her first and would not let her enter school before the morning bell in 2005. A jury convicted her in March 2006 on a felony count of shoving a public servant, who was not seriously injured.

The girl is in the Ron Jackson Correctional Complex in Brownwood, about 300 miles from her home in Paris. The facility is part of a juvenile system that is the subject of state and federal investigations into allegations that staff members physically and sexually abused inmates.

Under the sentence handed down by Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville, she will remain at the facility until she meets state rehabilitation standards or reaches her 21st birthday.

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Creola Cotton, Shaquandra’s mother, and activists argue that while Superville sent Shaquandra to the state’s juvenile prison system, he gave a white 14-year-old arsonist probation.

As many as 400 people marched and rallied in Paris on Tuesday, the second such protest in as many weeks by civil rights groups.

Meanwhile, the Paris school district fiercely denied claims of racism and chided the girl’s mother for “playing a game” to start controversy.

Creola Cotton says her daughter received an unjust punishment for pushing the Paris High School employee. Her complaints have prompted federal civil rights investigations of the school district.

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Dennis Eichelbaum, an attorney for the Paris school district, said the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has vindicated the district by finding no evidence of discrimination in three cases. Five other investigations remain open.

Creola Cotton is preventing the district from fairly defending itself by refusing to let the school district make her daughter’s entire record public, Eichelbaum said.

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