ACLU of Wisconsin Investigating School After Photo Scandal

Story Date: 
Jan 16, 2014

African American students suspended because photo "looked" gang-related

Updated: Friday, January 17, 2014

This afternoon the ACLU of Wisconsin learned that Sheboygan Falls School District officials decided to lift the one-game suspension imposed on high school basketball players Jordan and Juwaun Jackson.

The African American brothers were originally suspended after being accused of making "gang signs" in a photo taken by a local newspaper. While pleased that officials reinstated the Jackson brothers, the ACLU of Wisconsin will continue its investigation of Sheboygan Falls High School, as described below.



Friday, January 17: Today the ACLU of Wisconsin sent a letter to Sheboygan Falls High School, seeking information about several of the school’s polices and asking for the reinstatement of two African American brothers suspended from a basketball game.

Jordan and Juwaun Jackson were suspended from the game because officials believed they displayed gang signs in a photo published in a local newspaper.

Parents allegedly complained about the photo to school officials, who then contacted the Sheboygan Falls Police Department. 

Jordan, pictured on the far left in the photo, told TMJ News that he was making the common basketball signal for a three-point shot. His younger brother Juwaun, pictured in the center, was simply pointing at the camera, he said.

A Sports Illustrated blog post published yesterday said that Jordan "is clearly throwing up the three point sign." Photos of professional basketball players show that the sign Jordan made matches the hand signal for a three-pointer.

The editor of the Sheboygan Falls News decried the students' suspension, saying the newspaper was "disappointed and saddened" by the reaction to what he described as a "goofy" photo for a feel-good story about the Jackson brothers.

Yesterday Sheboygan Falls Police Chief Steve Riffel acknowledged that the boys pose no threat to the community.

In the letter sent today, the ACLU of Wisconsin said it will investigate the school’s efforts to comply with existing state law and new federal guidelines, which discuss “exclusionary discipline practices which disproportionately impact students of color.”

“We believe you may have engaged in the kind of biased discipline recently condemned by Attorney General Eric Holder,” ACLU of Wisconsin executive director Chris Ahmuty wrote in the records request, which was filed with District Administrator Jean Born.

The ACLU of Wisconsin also requested information on:

·       School district efforts to achieve equality of educational opportunity and nondiscrimination, including any records of staff diversity training or training to recognize discrimination

·       Trends and patterns of disciplinary actions, including suspensions, expulsions, and handling of pupil harassment, disaggregated by race

·       Any information or records about gang activity within the school or staff training to recognize this type of activity

·       A copy of the school’s policy on what is acceptable for athletes to do in photographs, the consequences of such actions, and/or the athletic code of conduct

Yesterday, Ahmuty condemned the suspension, issuing this statement:

“It appears as if the Sheboygan Falls school district and police department are unprepared to respond to the increasing diversity in the schools in an appropriate and educationally sound manner. The ACLU will be seeking information from the schools in order to assess their compliance with pupil non-discrimination rules. The ACLU asks the district to immediately make the brothers eligible to play in tomorrow’s game. Finally, we urge the district to treat this as a “teachable moment” by providing students, teachers and parents with positive ways to respond to diversity among students.”

The ACLU works to defend First Amendment principles, such as supporting students who are expressing themselves, as well as working with schools to ensure that students feel safe and are included in their education. We would be happy to come to Sheboygan Falls and facilitate a training to that end.”