ACLU is committed to challenging the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a disturbing national trend where our children are being funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Most of the children have learning disabilities or are dealing with poverty, abuse, or even neglect. These children would benefit from additional services such as mentoring, educational, and counseling services. Instead, they are being isolated, punished, and pushed out.
Black students, particularly Black males, are most likely to besuspended, expelled, and referred to law enforcement. School-to-prison pipeline has been well documented for middle and high school students: Black teenagers are forced out of school, onto the streets, and ultimately become trapped in the revolving door of crime and incarceration. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office released new data for Civil Rights revealing that thousands of Black preschool students are also being suspended from our nation’s public schools.
Black students comprise about 18 percent of preschool students; they represent half of the students suspended multiple times. Black males are the largest group of victims of racial disparities in pre-Kpunishment, though Black females are suspended more than girls of any other race. Data also show that punishment begins early and persists
in later grades: Black students are three times more likely than White students to be suspended or expelled. Black students only represent about one-sixth of all public school students, but account for nearly one-third of those arrested in school. Likewise, the proportion of Black students with disabilities being restrained — strapped down, handcuffed, or legs tied — is almost twice that of other special needs children.
Is it really necessary for us to call the police for everything a young male or female does in school? Do we have to throw our young people in handcuffs because he or she is experiencing mental issues?
Do we have to kick a young male out of school because he told a girl he likes her or he thinks she is pretty, claiming this is sexual harassment? No; these types of behaviors do not warrant the treatment they have been receiving from teachers at school, or from the police.
The school system is so ready to suspend our children because they sneeze wrong or look at them crazy. Does such behavior warrant being suspended or RPC (Required Parent Conference) Yes, I understand theschool system has a lot of children they have to deal with, and yes, there are children who are very disrespectful and out of control, but they are acting in an irresponsible way by kicking the child out of school or having the school police place them in handcuffs and transporting them to Clark County Detention Center or to Juvenile Hall. These kinds of actions not only contribute to the criminalization of Black children, but they also traumatize a child, at any grade level, and the stigma of punishment for Black kids has been shown to increase the odds of dropout and incarceration.
Part of the problem is the school system has adopted zero-tolerance policies that have become very popular in the school system. The zero-tolerance policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while the school police in our schools leads to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school.
Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline. Having this policy has not really caused a safe environment for our children, but it has created issue upon issue. It has gone so far that a 7-year-old girl in Oklahoma was sent home and banned from school because she wore locks in her hair. And it caused suspension of a little boy from school because he kissed a little girl on her hand. Wow, has anyone ever stopped to think that maybe he observed this action in his home from his own father kissing his mother’s hand?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 95 percent of school suspensions are for nonviolent offenses like dress code violations and/or tardiness. The U.S. Education Department also released another study documenting the fact that Black students are suspended and expelled at higher rates than White students. Latest Civil Rights Data Collection Snapshot includes preschool suspension rates for the first time, and they, too, are racially skewed: Black preschoolers are 42 percent of the students suspended once, and 48 percent of the students suspended more than once, though they are only 18 percent of preschool enrollment. Pre-K suspensions are exceedingly rare, however: Fewer than 5,000 students out of over 1 million preschoolers were suspended once in the 2011 school year, 2,500 students more than once.
Tina R. Burse is author of “Looking Into An Inmate’s World Through A C/O’s Eye” and Founder/CEO of It’s Ok 2 B Different Youth Mentoring Program