WINNER, S.D. - Casey Chasing Hawk once loved school so much that he would arrive at his bus stop 30 minutes early.
That all changed when Casey was pulled out of his 7th grade class by the Winner school superintendent, turned over to the police and thrown into jail for telling a teacher he was so angry at a classmate who beat him that he wanted to kill him. He spent 63 days in a juvenile detention facility 60 miles from home before the South Dakota Supreme Court determined that his misbehavior didn't even amount to disorderly conduct.
"They claimed he was a monster, so they had to make him look like a monster," said his father, Nelson Chasing Hawk. "They did all these evaluations on him, and they found out that his only problem was what they had done to him at that school."
What happened to Casey more than four years ago is still resonating today in this tiny town near a sprawling Lakota Sioux reservation. It has landed this rural district in southern South Dakota squarely in the middle of a wider debate over how schools discipline minority children.
Civil rights advocates want to make a national example of this 900-student district over the "school-to-prison pipeline" - the practice of arresting children and teens for routine school misconduct such as fighting and disobedience. It's an issue that has garnered the most attention in largely minority urban districts such as Chicago but is all but ignored in Indian country.