"Get tough" school discipline policies aren't doing anything to make our schools safer. In fact, they're creating a school-to-prison pipeline and exacerbating the school pushout crisis that is drastically curtailing access to educational opportunities for students of color. In a powerful op-ed, Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, and Gina Womack, Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, write that what we need instead is to "get smart" with school discipline policies.
Harsh school discipline policies, which push students out of the classroom through the discriminatory practice of out-of-school suspensions, are a national problem the results in 3.3 million of our nation's students being barred from the classroom each year – enough to fill every seat in all of the NFL stadiums combined. One in six Black students and one in 14 Latino students were suspended at least once in 2009-10, compared with just one in 20 of their White classmates.
But as Johnson and Womack note, public sentiment is turning against the use of harsh discipline polices in favor of policies like restorative justice that keep students in the classroom:
"The momentum for change is building. The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights recently held the first-ever congressional hearing on ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Connecticut and Maryland have both passed statewide measures to keep kids in school and make out-of-school suspensions a punishment of last resort. And schools from New York to California are implementing alternative disciplinary strategies to address student behavior problems.
Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline isn’t an easy task, but students who are suspended, expelled, and arrested in school do not disappear—they show up in the streets, in the unemployment line, and in our jails. Instead of continuing to enforce policies that “get tough” on school discipline, we ought to instead “get smart” about how we treat our youth.
We want safe and orderly schools that protect teachers, school staff, and students from harm, and need to come together to develop a plan that keeps everyone safe while providing our children with the educational opportunities that they deserve. By implementing common-sense disciplinary practices that provide students, parents, and teachers the support they need, we are sure to see dramatic improvements in school quality, public health, public safety, and economic prosperity."
Read (and share!) the full column here.
And check out this recent report from our allies at the MS NAACP, the ACLU, and the Advancement Project that details how Mississippi "is mired in an extreme school discipline crisis," and what advocates are doing to change it.