Last week, we focused on the school to prison pipeline. Needless to say there are a myriad of issues requiring our attention. The statistics are staggering and the trend is continuing if not increasing. Armed guards in schools, zero tolerance policies, and draconian levels of punishment are turning some of our schools away from what they're supposed to be.
We are well aware of the recent incident involving the arrest of a 16-year-old girl over a science experiment. There are those who feel the punishment was justified.
During an interview on MSNBC Kharry Lazarre-White of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol said the line between a disciplinary infraction and a crime had become blurred in many U.S. schools.
“It’s become blurred, one, because now you have police officers in schools,” he told MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “So, you have police officers responding to issues that used to be that teachers or school safety officers responded to. Secondly, you now see this broad range of issues that would have never been seen as something to arrest a child. We have children expelled for singing too loudly in classes, for running through the hallway, for being late, but one of the most striking aspects of this is that the number one issue that you see leading towards this kind of expulsion is children who are refusing to respond to authority, children who are, quote, being defiant.”
Is this practice going to become something that we complain about but ultimately accept? There are a lot of articles being written and the awareness level on this subject is high. Awareness alone is not going to have an impact. Are we already a day late and a dollar short?
These are our children; we cannot allow them to become pawns in the system. We are sacrificing “teachable moments” for a false sense of security. The mantra appears to be either the child conforms or else.
Now that we are “aware” what can we do? Simply put we need to get involved both individually and organizationally. We can make a commitment to research what’s going on in our own neighborhood. We can get involved in the PTA. We can go to school board meetings. We can challenge those members of the school board who support a zero tolerance philosophy. We can do our best to hold elected officials accountable for their actions.
We can support organizations that are on the front lines confronting the school to prison trend. One such organization is the Dignity in Schools Campaign (www.dignityinschools.org).
The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) challenges the systemic problem of pushout in our nation's schools and advocates for the human right of every child to a quality education and to be treated with dignity. The DSC unites parents, youth, educators and advocates in a campaign to promote local and national alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment and removal.
As I've written before, it's up to us. We cannot wait or rely on anyone else. These are our children and these policies can permanently impact their lives.
It starts now, let's get this thing done....
Ernest R. Heyward is the Founder and President of the Marketplace for Social Awareness and Social Responsibility Inc.