Do schools need to reevaluate and reform their discipline policies? 17-year old Brooklyn native Christine Rodriguez believes so.
Christine is a college freshman and has been involved in a concerted effort between parents, educators, child rights advocates, and civil rights leaders to reform New York City school’s discipline policies. She’s been under the district’s tough disciplinary system for all of her primary school years.
“I’ve been to public school my whole life. I’ve experienced the school-to-prison pipeline and criminalization [of students]. And I’ve questioned why all of these things happen to our communities.”
What is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?
We’ve covered the school-to-prison pipeline before, which refers to the growing number of students being referred into the criminal justice system by school officials for sometimes minor . The phenomenon especially plagues schools serving at-risk populations who struggle with a striking lack of funding and proper training.
These schools, starved of proper resources, often resort to harsher penalties for minor misbehaviors. In 2011, a study released by child advocacy group Child Trends discovered that most school suspensions were meted out for nonviolent offenses.
A Department of Education report cited a study finding that “95 percent of out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect.” The same DOE report cited a study done in Texas of close to 1 million students that “found that nearly six in 10 public school students studied were suspended or expelled at least once over a six-year period during their 7th to 12th-grade years; 15 percent of those students were disciplined 11 or more separate times.”
To lower the growing tide of student delinquency in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio assembled The Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. Christian Rodriguez was one of two youth members in the team. With her help, the team recently issued a ten point plan for discipline reform in New York City schools.
But for Christine, this is just the beginning.
While remaining optimistic about their progress, Christine confesses, “There’s a challenging side to it.” The ten points for reform she helped create did not involve funding initiatives using restorative justice, an alternative form of discipline which seeks to learn the root cause of student misbehavior and solve them by forcing the different sides of a conflict to dialogue with each other. To Rodriguez “not really investing in what’s important is conflicting for me.”
More than likely that was the same sentiment of those who lobbied New York City Council for the monies to fund restorative justice. Because of their efforts, $2.4 million was allocated to restorative justice programs in the last fiscal year’s budget.
Cities and school districts must allocate proper resources to make proven discipline reforms like restorative justice successful.
Finding the resources in ever-tightening budgets is tough. But the mounting problem of students being shoved down the pipeline is not going away. An analysis by UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies found that American children lost almost 18 million days of instruction due to suspensions and expulsions.
18 million days.
But there are school districts who are tackling this problem head on. Districts like Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who’ve eliminated out-of-school suspensions, are leading the way to a new approach to school discipline. We applaud them for making the commitment to reform by setting aside $3.2 million to implement new disciplinary policies like PBIS.
The movement for discipline reform is picking up steam and more schools are adopting policies that use out-of-school suspensions only as a last resort. For educators and students like Christine, the future is promising.
“Suspensions are the easy way out. All you have to do is suspend a student and they’ll be gone for up to a week,” Christine said. “But that doesn’t tackle the root of the problem. When a teacher takes a student out and talks to us, it shows us they care. It shows community.”
Read the full article over on The Atlantic.