By Kate Snyder
Educators in the classroom have a wealth of experience and insight to share in the development of policies that impact equity and opportunities for their students. It is no surprise that national organizations often seek to partner with educators to get their take on the practical application of policy proposals.
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“Teachers are on the frontline—they are the first responders in the classroom who sound the alarm when they see what is happening. They spend the most time with kids and know them best, and they can ground the conversation about solutions in what is possible. They know what is realistic- top down policies don’t work,” said Kayla Patrick, Public Policy Fellow at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), who facilitated dialogues with teachers at the NEA Conference on Racial and Social Justice in Boston.
The NWLC sought the feedback of educators at the Conference in Boston as they were workshopping policy solutions to address the issue of the disproportionately high rate at which girls of color are suspended and pushed out of school compared to their white peers.
The NWLC was able to open a dialogue around promising trends and policies that can disrupt the school to prison pipeline and draw out some nuance through the conversations. Below are some highlights that educators offered during the discussions:
- When asked about policy around suspension, educators were unanimously in favor of eliminating suspension for nonviolent offenses.
- Participants felt that addressing defiance and respect in our schools is very subjective and to address the underlying issues educators need to be at the table to develop dialogue and training.
- Participants felt strongly that the presence of police officers in schools creates a direct pathway into the juvenile justice system. There was general concern around the power of Student Resource Officers (SROs) and that they are too often used to control and arrest instead of mediate and deescalate. Participants felt it was important for SROs to receive mandatory child-centered training.
- On the issue of dress code and school climate, participants felt that policies were inequitably enforced for girls, and that they often failed to respect culture and religion.
- Policies around pregnant and parenting students brought out the disparity in services offered to wealthier school districts versus high-poverty districts.
“Having the opportunity to engage in conversations with educator activists who are trying some of these ideas out in the classroom allowed us to workshop some of these policy solutions,” said Nia Evans, Engagement and Mobilization Associate at NWLC.
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