Wayne Treacy is charged as an adult in the March 17 beating of Josie Lou Ratley. (Mike Stocker, Sun Sentinel)
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BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - The teenager accused of trying to stomp to death a Deerfield Beach Middle School student has sued the Broward School Board and the Sheriff's Office, claiming he's being shortchanged out of an education as he sits in jail.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, raises questions about whether juvenile inmates who are charged as adults are getting the schooling they're entitled to, and who is responsible for making sure it happens.
According to the lawsuit, Wayne Treacy, 16, is getting less than five hours a week of instruction as he awaits trial on an attempted murder charge. But school district records purportedly show he's getting 28.3 hours a week.
"This record is false," according to the lawsuit, which requests 25 hours of instruction per week and does not seek money.
Treacy is charged as an adult in the March 17 beating of Josie Lou Ratley, who is said to have provoked his anger in a callous text message exchange. Ratley, now 16, was left brain damaged and is continuing her rehabilitation at home.
State law mandates education for underage suspects charged with crimes, and jails work with school districts to make sure 25 hours of instruction per week is provided in juvenile detention facilities. But the situation gets complicated with those charged as adults because they are no longer in juvenile custody and, until now, no one has claimed to be shortchanged.
The school district gets about $6,400 from the state for every student, and Superintendent Jim Notter confirmed Thursday that those in jail are included in that funding. Without addressing the specifics of Treacy's lawsuit, Notter said the district is willing to do what the law requires. He also said he would look into the claim that Treacy is getting less instruction than official reports are documenting.
"If there's an entitlement by law that a juvenile in jail gets a regular school day, I will be glad to provide it," he said.
It's unclear whether his experience is typical of juveniles charged as adults.
Greg Durden, the lawyer who filed on behalf of Treacy, said he was unaware whether any other inmates shared Treacy's complaint. And Notter could not say for sure whether any of the Broward Main Jail's 37 juvenile inmates receive the 25 weekly hours.
"This isn't just about Wayne Treacy," said Durden. "We feel that this is going to give him and others in his position a better chance at rehabilitation."
Before his arrest, Treacy was enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program at Deerfield Beach High School. Until his brother's suicide last year, Treacy kept up good grades and consistently scored 4 and 5 on statewide FCAT tests.
According to his lawsuit, he received five hours of schooling a day when he was held as a juvenile in the month after his arrest. But once he was charged as an adult and transferred to the main jail, the schooling stopped, he claims.
Durden emphasized that Treacy and others in jail have not been convicted. Treacy has pleaded not guilty and is advancing a mental health defense.
"What about the kid who's found not guilty?" Durden said. "What do we tell him after he's been in jail, not gotten any education, and then gets released with no training except being an inmate?"
The Broward Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the lawsuit, and Ratley's family also declined to comment.
Gordon Weekes, who heads the juvenile division of the Broward Public Defender's Office, applauded Treacy's effort to obtain an education despite the seriousness of the charges he's facing.
"There is a compelling state interest in educating children, even those who are incarcerated," Weekes said.
Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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