Breaking Free from the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Before her father contacted CLSMF, Ebony Townsend was one of many students caught in the downward spiral of the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition to suffering from learning disabilities that had gone unaddressed and being deaf in one ear, Ebony was also a victim of bullying. For years she had been taunted by other kids at school and on the bus. At just 10 years old, when she could no longer handle the bullying and cried for help, she was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police car in a Baker Act attempt, and suspended from the bus for 45 days.

Ebony’s father, Anthony Giddens, sought help for his daughter in every way possible before she was arrested. The concerned single-father discussed his worries for his daughter with teachers, the principal, and even the superintendent. When one student in particular would not leave Ebony alone, Anthony even went to court to obtain a restraining order. Ebony changed buses and schools, however, with a lack of support from the school faculty and an absence of the appropriate accommodations for a student with disabilities, the problems Ebony was facing continued to emerge.

Anthony said that when he found himself in front of CLSMF’s office, “It was like a sign from God saying, ‘You’ve been everywhere, but you haven’t been here.’” Little did he know that minutes after leaving the office he would finally receive the help he had been seeking for years. Anthony received a call from Katie Kelly, supervising attorney for CLSMF’s Children’s Rights Unit, who took Ebony’s case and would help guide her out of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Katie made sure that Ebony received an independent evaluation, which would reveal why she was having such a difficult time learning. She was then able to work with another school to develop an Individual Education Program (IEP) so that Ebony’s educational needs were addressed and supported. Today, Ebony is no longer being bullied and has no behavioral problems. She is an active girl scout, an A-B Honor Roll student, and most importantly, a happier child.

Katie Kelly, who was recognized along with her client on The Florida Bar News, says, “Our unit has been given a tremendous opportunity through CLSMF and the Florida Bar Foundation. With their support, we are able to significantly improve the lives of children with disabilities and their families throughout Central Florida. Who wouldn’t want a job like that?”

To read more about Ebony’s story visit: www.floridabar.org/news/. For more information on The Florida Bar Foundation’s Children’s’ Legal Services Grants, visit: thefloridabarfoundation.org/project/childrens-legal-services/.


*Photo Credit: Judy Watson Tracy