Educators weigh in on ending school to prison pipeline for girls of color


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.

You can see the rate at which girls of color are suspended in your state and district here.

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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Reader Comments

  1. I have taught junior high for 23 years. Students disrespecting teachers and each other, has significantly increased over my years in the classroom. Many administrators do not administer adequate consequences for defiance and disrespect of teachers, because they fear parent complaints. Instead, chronically defiant and disrespectful kids have Lear ed that the fix is in, and this not only enables their awful behavior, but emboldened them to engage in even worse behavior. This results in classrooms where it is even more difficult for teachers to teach, and destroys the classroom climate, adversely impacting student’s learning. If a student is disrespectful and defiant to a teacher, I see nothing wrong with suspending them for a day or two. Suspensions, when warranted, don’t increase a child’s chance of them going to prison. Rather, it is their own poor behavior choices, and likely poor parenting and supervision that led them to make those choices in the first place.

    1. As important as it is to attempt to teach responsibility and respect, what about the vast majority of kids who follow the rules and whose learning is interrupted/disrupted by those who chose to create distractions? What right do those kids have to a favorable learning environment? Trouble makers need to be removed, the parents need to be made accountable for the kids’ lousy behavior. But as usual, blame gets spread everywhere except where it belongs.

  2. With regard to support for pregnant students, perhaps a more rational approach, compared to support, would be to not get pregnant. Or is that not a reasonable option?

    1. MarineBob – What you wish was the case and what’s reality are two different things. Given what happens and continues to happen, what then becomes your rational approach…just to ignore it?

      1. No, do not ignore the problem. Of course it’s probably a foreign concept to many bleeding hearts, but more effort needs to focused at the root cause of a problem, not continuing to bandaid the symptoms. Teen pregnancy is a symptom of a larger social problem and as such, throwing more resources, while ignoring root causes, is a fool’s approach.

        For example, except for ardent believers, there aren’t too many virgin births. Pregnant students ought to be required to name the father who immediately then is responsible for the costs associated with the ‘rendezvous.’ The expectant mothers need to be assigned work details if they cannot afford the costs associated with the pregnancy.

        It really is quite simple, if you play, you pay. If there were no pregnant students, there would be no discussion regarding inequality in their treatment. Or we can simply assume we are powerless to have an impact on reducing the problem and keep sucking money from taxpayers to fund the sexual exploits of irresponsible, immature students.

        Only an irrational, head in the sand liberal thinker would disagree with working hard to eliminate the problem and not just playing games with the symptoms. Which side are you on?

        1. MarineBob – Teen pregnancy is a symptom of a larger social problem, but poverty and lack of education is the root cause. Are you ready to infuse the dollars needed to address it? Even to set up the type of draconian tracking system you suggest requires more govt. oversight, more resources, and hence more taxpayer dollars, none of which you conservative types are ready to ante up. In the meantime, feel free to stand on the sidelines and complain Bob.

        2. Scarey: people think it’s better to focus energy on taking care of pregnant teens rather than working harder to prevent the problem in the first place. And to not hold the involved parties accountable and responsible? Sad commentary on our societal norms. I suppose we might as well just let kids be kids and do whatever they want with no consequences.

          1. MarineBob – What’s really scary is that you don’t get it. Your daddy registry and mommy work detail is a band-aid approach that doesn’t address the underlying causes of teen pregnancy. But It doesn’t matter anyway. People like you wouldn’t pledge tax dollars to support ANY so-called government overreach so the whole discussion is pointless.

            1. Yet, you seem to always feel a need to comment, presupposing what I think.

              I know you can not comprehend my perspective: everyone is accountable for their own acts. Not the government’s business to be responsible for everything.

            2. MarineBob – Yet you want to enforce personal responsibility for sexual behavior through government action and at the same time you claim it’s the not the business of govt. to be responsible for everything. You’re correct about one point. I can’t comprehend your perspective b/c it makes NO SENSE.

  3. Firstly, it’s a POVERTY to prison pipeline, not an school to prison pipeline. Secondly, your title is offensive. What about the boys? There are an awful lot more men in prison than women.

  4. When issues are defined by race to the exclusion of other factors, it tends to work against solving the problems. Is the problem with the students or the teachers? Would the results be different if we more thoroughly segregated schools by race, and worked toward the goal of ensuring that students were educated only by teachers of the same race? Is economic class a factor, and if so, how?

  5. There are plenty of nonviolent actions by students that require an out of school suspension. I hope these aren’t being overlooked.
    Defiance and disrespect should not be tolerated…do not “soften” on this issue.
    Police officers NEED to be in schools at this point as negative behavior can escalate and others can be
    hurt. Training to mediate is fine but leave the officers in the schools.
    Dress code: Make it clear in a policy handbook/written statement before school starts. Explain as much
    as possible. Make students responsible….learn the rules before hand. Garments according the religion/culture:
    set the tone before school starts with what is appropriate. Religious garments should be respected if they
    are appropriate to a learning environment (not overly distracting or extremely out of the ordinary where it
    would intrude on the learning environment of another.)

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