Kaylb Wiley Primm was in second grade in Kansas City when he started crying in class because he was being bullied. Within minutes, the child found himself in handcuffs. Two years later, his life is just getting back to normal.
The incident began when a school-based police officer happened to walk by Kaylb’s classroom and hear him crying and disrupting other students, according to a lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kaylb’s family. When Kaylb continued to cry and yell in the hallway, against the officer’s requests, the officer put the child in handcuffs and brought him to the main office, where he sat until a parent arrived.
Kaylb’s life was upended as a result of the incident. His mom, Tomesha Primm, took him out of school out of fear for his safety. She said he started having nightmares and wetting the bed. Now the family has filed a lawsuit in hopes that the school district will better train its police officers to work with kids and provide compensatory damages.
“To put it simply, [Kaylb] was terrified. School is supposed to be a safe place for kids where they can go and learn to be themselves and learn more generally,” said Anthony Rothert, legal director of the Missouri ACLU. “It quite understandably made him feel unsafe and afraid to return.”
The lawsuit, which names Kansas City Public Schools as well as a school principal and police officer as defendants, is based in part on the police officer’s incident report. According to the police officer’s account, the child had been “out of control in his classroom and refused to follow my directions.” Still, the officer violated Kaylb’s right to be free from unreasonable seizures and excessive force, according to the lawsuit.
At the time, Kaylb was just 7 years old, less than 4 feet tall and less than 50 pounds. His mother often volunteered at the school. She was shocked to learn that handcuffs were used to calm her child.
“I couldn’t believe it because I couldn’t imagine they were allowed to do anything like that, or I would never have put him in there,” said Primm. “He knew he didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t know if the man was going to take him to jail.”
Primm didn’t want her son to be in any further danger, so she withdrew him from school and taught him at home for two years ― even though it meant she “missed out on an income.” Though Kaylb prefers not to talk about the incident, Primm knows it weighs on him. He went back to a traditional school this year, although not the same one as before.
“He’s laid back, he’s like the easiest kid,” Primm said. “I think his maturity level is high versus kids his age ... He opens the door for me all the time. He runs to get the door. He’s such a gentleman.”
The lawsuit contends that the police officer violated Missouri rules when he handcuffed Kaylb. Policy from the Missouri Department of Education says that kids should only be restrained in response to “emergency or crisis situations.”
A statement from the district says police officers are not beholden to department of education policies.
“Contrary to reports that KCPS security officers violated certain [Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] regulations, all KCPS officers are commissioned by the Kansas City Police Department in accordance with state law. This important distinction alters the parameters of their capacity to act in certain situations,” says the statement, “Notwithstanding the expanded scope of their authority, the school system’s present administration is taking numerous steps to ensure that our security officers are focused on de-escalation, conflict resolution, trauma intervention and relationship building.”
Beyond that, the statement says the district cannot comment on lawsuit specifics, but “Kansas City Public Schools strives to maintain a safe, secure and equitable environment that is welcoming and nurturing.”
Rothert sees the incident as part of a larger pattern of unfair school discipline practices. Data shows that black students often receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts.
“There needs to be a discussion about why black students are receiving discipline while white students who do the same thing do not receive discipline,” said Rothert.
Even though it hurts Primm and her son to rehash the incident, she is speaking out because she hopes what happened to her son won’t happen to another child.
“No schools should be handcuffing little kids. I want it to stop,” said Primm. “Someone needs to step up and speak up. Unfortunately, I’m not a media guru. This is, to a certain point, embarrassing. But if this is what it takes to help people recognize it’s not OK,” she added, she’d be willing to do it.
Rebecca Klein covers the challenges faced in school discipline, school segregation and the achievement gap in K-12 education. In particular, she is drilling down into the programs and innovations that are trying to solve these problems. Tips? Email Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com.