ATHENS — Two Athens High School students who sought an emergency court order to allow them to participate in Thursday’s graduation remained barred from the ceremony after their cases weren't heard, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The students will instead take part in a community graduation event at 7 tonight at Freshwind Christian Fellowship, according to the SPLC, which is representing the students.

“It’s disappointing that the judge assigned to the cases did not have enough time to hear them today and provide the immediate, simple remedy our clients deserve in advance of Athens High School’s graduation tonight: the permission to attend and walk in celebration of their milestone accomplishment,” said Michael Tafelski, the SPLC’s senior supervising attorney, in a written statement Thursday. 

Juvenile Judge Doug Patterson recused himself from the case Wednesday, according to the SPLC, but SPLC representatives declined to say which judge was assigned to the case after the recusal.

The lawsuits against the Athens school board seeking the emergency order followed the indefinite suspension of the two 18-year-old black seniors after an April 10 altercation at Athens High involving a parent, off-duty police officers hired by the school system and students.

The complaints, filed in Limestone County Juvenile Court on Tuesday, are under seal. The petitions allege the school board violated the students’ due process rights by failing to prove they violated the Athens City Schools Student Code of Conduct and “by arbitrarily punishing G.K. and M.B. and prohibiting them from participating in their graduation ceremony,” according to an SPLC statement issued Wednesday.

Superintendent Trey Holladay disputed the organization's charges in a statement Wednesday.

“Athens City Schools strongly denies the allegations made by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said in that statement. On Thursday, he declined to comment further except to say, “We are looking forward to our day in court.”

Officers working security at the school on April 10 arrested 39-year-old Amanda Loggins; her daughter, 18-year-old student Gabrielle Kirby; another 18-year-old student, Makaleb Boykin; and one juvenile student. According to police, they were all charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors.

Arraignments for Loggins, Kirby and Boykin had been set for Thursday in Athens Municipal Court, but the cases were all continued to June 6.

The SPLC statement called for the Athens school district and police to ensure that police officers working in the city’s schools have specialized training to work with youths and in schools, focus on “de-escalation over escalation” and better define the role of officers in schools.

“Moreover, the school system should take a long and hard look at its disciplinary practices, which students are being disciplined and why, and commit to decrease the racial disparities that exist — especially for overly harsh and punitive responses to misbehavior,” the statement said. “Nationally, students of color routinely receive harsher disciplinary measures for the same offenses their white peers are accused of; Athens must be better.”

Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon.

marian.accardi@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.

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