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December 15, 2004 - The Associated Press (US)

Kindergartner Leaves School After Being Handcuffed

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ST. LOUIS - A kindergartner who was handcuffed after a principal wanted to curb his unruly behavior has left the school.

Aroni Rucker said her son had trouble adjusting to his first year of school, but she said the 5-year-old hadn't done anything to warrant handcuffing.

Now, she says the boy is afraid of what might happen at school.

"He doesn't want to go there. He's afraid he'll go to jail if he's bad," she told The Associated Press.

Rucker said her son came home Nov. 30 complaining that his arms were hurting. When she asked why, he said he had been "locked up."

Rucker believes her son was handcuffed twice.

Principal Sam Morgan of Thurgood Marshall Academy, a charter school, acknowledged he had police officers handcuff the boy one time, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I'm trying to scare this kid straight. I would not be doing my job if I were not trying to get him on the right path."

St. Louis police spokesman Richard Wilkes said the department was looking into the incident. "Handcuffing 5-year-olds is not a practice of the department," he added.

Morgan said he asked police officers walking through the school to help him with the boy on one occasion. They drove the boy around the block in the back of a squad car, Morgan said.

Morgan said the boy has gotten into trouble almost every day since school started, for disobeying his teacher and fighting with pupils.

Rucker said Morgan told her the police talked to her son, and she was supportive of efforts to improve his behavior, but she never would have supported the handcuffing.

Rucker and Morgan don't agree about whether the boy was asked to leave the school or whether she withdrew him. He has not attended the school since last week. Rucker has also removed another son, a second-grader.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis announced in August that it would end its sponsorship of Thurgood Marshall Academy, meaning the school must find a new sponsor by June or close.

A university report noted that fiscal mismanagement, board corruption and high turnover have hurt the school.

Morgan, a longtime principal at East St. Louis High School in Illinois who also worked for the Department of Corrections for eight years, is in his second year at Thurgood Marshall Academy.

Morgan said he wanted to teach the boy a lesson and that he had devoted more time to the pupil than to any others.

"I have this kid in my heart," he said, adding that he had walked the halls with the boy and talked to him many times.

The children's godmother, Terreka Jones, who helps out with dropping off and picking up the children, told the AP that school officials hadn't said they regretted the decision. "That keeps me up at night," she said.

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