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City schools to halt handcuffing students

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Jackson public schools will no longer handcuff students to poles or other objects and will train staff at its alternative school on better methods of discipline.

Mississippi's second-largest school district agreed Friday to the settlement with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had sued over the practice of shackling students to a pole at the district's Capital City Alternative School.

The suit was filed in June 2011 by Jeanette Murry on behalf of her then-16-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It said staffers routinely restrained students for hours for offenses as minor as dress code violations, forcing them to eat lunch while chained to a stair railing and to shout for help to go to the bathroom.

The settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee, says all district employees will stop handcuffing students younger than 13, and can only handcuff older students for crimes. In no case will employees shackle a student to a fixed object such as a railing.

Troubles at the alternative school helped spark the proceedings that have jeopardized the accreditation of the entire 30,000-student district.

Nationwide, a report from the U.S. Department of Education showed tens of thousands of students, 70 percent of them disabled, were strapped down or physically restrained in school in 2009-10.



Woman who texted driver not liable

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) -- A woman who texted her boyfriend while he was driving cannot be held liable for a car crash he caused while responding to her text, seriously injuring a motorcycling couple, a judge ruled Friday in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the country.

A lawyer for the injured couple argued that text messages from Shannon Colonna to Kyle Best played a role in the September 2009 crash in Mine Hill. But Colonna's lawyer argued she had no control over when or how Best would read and respond to the message.

State Superior Court Judge David Rand sided with Colonna's lawyer, dismissing claims against the woman in a lawsuit filed by crash victims David and Linda Kubert, who are also suing Best. David Kubert's left leg was torn off above the knee; his wife's leg had to be amputated.

Stephen Weinstein, the Kuberts' attorney, has argued that Colonna should have known Best was driving and texting her at the time. But Colonna testified she didn't know whether Best was driving at the time.



2 women officers sue over combat ban

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Two female Army Reserve officers have sued the Defense Department and the Army in a bid to reverse military policies banning women from serving in combat roles.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accuses the government of violating the constitutional rights of servicewomen by excluding them from certain ground combat units and other positions solely on the basis of their gender. It seeks to end such policies and require the military to make all assignments and training decisions without regard to gender.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, names Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Thomas Bostick and Assistant Army Secretary Thomas Lamont. It is the first lawsuit to challenge the combat ban, according to University of Virginia Law School professor Anne Coughlin.

Command Sgt. Maj. Jane Baldwin and Col. Ellen Haring allege the policies have hindered their career advancement and that continued enforcement of the policy unconstitutionally bars women from certain positions available to men, and restricts current and future earnings.



Senator admonished over improper contact

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate Ethics Committee on Friday admonished Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.,for his contact with a top aide to former Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who resigned in disgrace last year after lying about his affair with the staffer's wife.

The panel said Coburn's communications with Doug Hampton and his actions on behalf of the former administrative assistant "were improper conduct which reflects on the Senate." The committee said the contact warranted a public letter of qualified admonition.

Specifically, it said a meeting between the two violated the Senate rule barring contact on legislative matters within the first year of a staffer's departure, commonly known as the "cooling off period."

Ensign quit May 3, 2011, one day before he was to have testified under oath to the Senate Ethics Committee about his affair with Cynthia Hampton, her husband Doug Hampton's subsequent lobbying of Ensign's office and a payment from Ensign's parents to the one-time aide's family.