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Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Awareness, Public Dialogue, and Action (Part 2)
5/30/2016 10:40:22 AM

Miya Fowler
By Miya Fowler

(Part 1 of this series can be seen in the May 18, 2016 edition of The Chronicle and viewed online at:

From Part 1:
“According to Senator Matthews, South Carolina spends over $16,000 per child on incarceration, while spending only $11,000 per child on education; although estimates from other sources have placed incarceration funding at as high as $150,000 per child and education funding at as low as $9,000 per child. Senator Matthews noted the racialized nature of the pipeline, sharing that only 4.8% of white students are affected by it. She highlighted how the Disturbing Schools law takes children into the pipeline, and how socio-economic status, in addition to race, plays a role in keeping children in the pipeline. Once a child has Disturbing Schools on their record, any charges after that will automatically make their bond higher, and most parents cannot afford lawyers to fight their children’s cases in court.

...At what point will we stop discussing the pipeline and eliminate it? One might feel that Kinney’s diversion program is a solution, but the fact remains that children are already in the pipeline when they arrive at the program. Furthermore, for all the facts and opinions that Senator Matthews provided regarding the school-to-prison pipeline and flaws in the education system, she did not mention any policy changes happening in South Carolina that could disrupt the pipeline. Thus, my suggestion here is that we move beyond talking endlessly about what is wrong and begin creating the changes that we want to see. First and foremost, we need to advocate for either a change in or reversal of the Disturbing Schools Law. Efforts at dismantling are useless if the law that created and perpetuates the pipeline remains in place.”

On a visit to the Statehouse in March, the class met with Representative Joe Neil, who is proposing a bill to return the Disturbing Schools law to its original intent - charging perpetrators who enter the school rather than the students themselves. Representative Neil’s aims are understandable; however he seems to miss the fact that the law itself is colored by interpretation. What measures, if any, were in place when the law was first enacted to specify that it was not intended for the arrests of children who exhibit defiant behavior at school?

Furthermore, what led to an interpretation that allowed for the arrests of children who defy authority’s orders? Multiple sources have pointed to the hysteria following the Columbine shooting in 1999 as precipating the criminalization of schoolchildren. However, the Columbine massacre was carried out by two white males in a predominantly white and upper middle class high school, while school-based arrests today disproportionately affect children of color in schools with low resources. We must ask ourselves and our government officials why the policies created in response to the actions of two white males bar children of color from receiving a meaningful education, and why, after seeing the presumably unintended racialized consequences of the policies, have they not yet been amended or reversed?

Taking action to dismantle the pipeline requires staying on top of the people who create our state and nation’s laws so that they are held accountable for criminalizing and traumatizing children of color through encounters with the criminal justice system.

In addition to demanding answers from policy-makers, it is necessary to advocate for returning education to the education system. This involves encouraging the acquisition of knowledge and intellectual development, as well as valuing educators. Currently, we have a system in which educators exercise little control. Their class sizes increase while their salary does not; curricula revolve around testing, ignoring multiple intelligences and emphasizing only linguistic and logical-mathematical; and instead of de-escalating disruptive classroom situations, they are required to get a resource officer who is not trained in conflict resolution.

If the state can spend an extra $5,000 to incarcerate youth rather than educate them, it can certainly increase teachers’ salaries and school funding for programs that appeal to different types of learners. The money spent on having school resource officers can be better used in education programs.

Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline requires advocating for the removal of resource officers from schools, and if that is too extreme of a solution, then funding needs to go toward child behavior, cultural sensitivity, and conflict-resolution training for the officers placed in schools. Furthermore, schools need to employ a system of restorative justice, rather than retributive justice. Punishment for childhood behavior creates problems, criminals, and an uneducated citizenry; but facilitating discussions with students that hold them accountable for their actions while resolving conflicts keeps them in school.

My intention here is not to invalidate the work that is already being done. Increasing awareness and encouraging public dialogue are both essential to dismantling the pipeline, but the effort cannot stop at saying, “We have to do something about this” while not doing anything but talking.

Diversion programs, such as Kinney’s, and alternative programs are helpful, but they are tantamount to treating the symptoms of an illness rather than the illness itself. Thus, this is a call to all who care about our community’s children to begin demanding and creating the changes necessary to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and stop the criminalization of our youth.

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