Target: Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education
Goal: Implement new legislation that will change the draconian school discipline policies that harm students to more humane and supportive strategies.
With the widespread growth of zero tolerance discipline policies in America’s public schools, as well as increasing school security and police forces, data from the U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights shows that more than 3 million students are now suspended each year and over 100,000 expelled. A vast majority of these punishments are for subjective offenses such as “disrespect” or “disruption.” Of those arrested or referred to law enforcement, more than 70 percent are African-American or Latino. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.
The ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’ refers to the structure within public schools that emphasizes a punitive, law-enforcement based approach to disciplining students thus often leading to a student’s involvement with the criminal justice system when he or she is older. Research has shown that the more interaction a young person has with the criminal justice system the more likely they are to come into contact with the criminal justice system in the future. Today, harsh policies are responsible for young students being introduced to the insides of police cars and detention facilities, often for acts like talking back to a teacher or getting into a schoolyard fight.
To address the issue, which has been largely ignored on a national scale, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil, and Human Rights held a hearing, chaired by Senator Dirk Durbin (D-IL) on December 12, 2012 called ‘Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline.’ The hearing was the first time the federal government officially recognized the school-to-prison pipeline.
“A schoolyard fight used to warrant a trip to the principal’s office,” Durbin said, adding “this school-to-prison pipeline has moved scores of young people from classrooms to courtrooms.'”
Call on the Department of Education to reform these policies and give our students a chance to succeed.
Dear Arne Duncan & The Department of Education,
The trend of punitive and draconian discipline approaches in schools overlooks the harmful effects of treating young people like criminals. We have de-emphasized support and counseling and increased suspensions, expulsions, and encounters with the criminal justice system.
For example, with some 5,000 agents, the New York City School Safety Division is larger than most of the country’s big-city police departments. In keeping with the tradition of punishment rather than support, there are nearly twice as many safety officers in city schools as guidance counselors and nearly four times as many safety officers as social workers.
These are just children. While some may actually warrant the punishment they deserve, most are simply crying out for help. Give these students a chance to succeed. Offer them the type of comprehensive support they need to excel and develop important life skills.
It is so important that we show these children, who so often are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, that this country believes in them and that they are worthy of respect. Our children should be our utmost priority, as this nation’s future depends on then. Let us help them become the best that they can be, and let our schools be a place of support and care, not police forces and handcuffs.
[Your Name Here]
photo credit: Gabi Acierno