Jailing Students For Dressing the Wrong Way? Seriously?
What in the name of reasonable policy solutions is wrong with the school officials, police departments, and juvenile justice systems operating the school-to-prison pipeline in east Mississippi? In a letter to state and local officials in Lauderdale County and the city of Meridian, the U.S. Department of Justice rebuked officials over the local school discipline policies for their egregious violations of students' rights.
Following an investigation, the U.S. DOJ found that the harsh discipline policies, which disproportionately target students of color and students with disabilities, can land students in the juvenile justice system for infractions as minor as "dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect." Police are routinely called in to schools to arrest students and neglect to check for probably cause. And once arrested, students are denied due process, put on probably and forced "to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center." The conditions in said detention center are "shockingly inhumane," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed a lawsuit in 2009, and consist of cramped dirty cells and the arbitrary use of Mace as punishment for minor infractions.
Given all that, how, exactly, are students supposed to keep up with their studies locked behind bars in terrible commisions? What student would want to go back to school after being treated so disrespectfully by the school officials and institutions that are supposed to be helping them grow and learn?
Pushing students out of the classroom isn't a viable solution for addressing school disciplinary issues. It just estranges the student from the classroom environment, causes them to fall behind in the class work, and increases the likelihood that students could drop out altogether and wind up in the juvenile justice system. From what it sounds like in Mississippi, officials are skipping over the middle bits of that process and sending students through an accelerated pipeline to prison.
Thankfully, the U.S. DOJ's letter and investigation findings are being splashed across news outlets throughout the country. The DOJ is also threatening to file a federal court complaint if nothing is done to address the situation. It's time to call out bad policy and implement new solutions that keep our kids in the classroom instead of pushing them out of school and into the justice system.
Also, check out the OTL Campaign's toolkit on school discipline here.
And check out the Dignity in Schools Campaign's facts sheets and resources on school pushout here.
Keep the drumbeat up! Together we can put an end to bad policy and keep our students where they belong: in the classroom.