As part of our Racial Justice work, the ACLU of Utah organized local participation in the 5th Annual National Week of Action Against School Pushout beginning on October 4. Across the country, thousands of activists participated by organizing events or using social media to raise awareness and educate communities about the School-to-Prison Pipeline. This pipeline refers to the overly harsh policies and practices that systematically push students, especially those of color, out of schools, into juvenile justice system, and eventually prison. These policies and practices can take the form of zero tolerance discipline, the misuse of School Resource Officers, and the overuse of suspensions and expulsions.
This year the ACLU of Utah, Mayor’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights, and Salt Lake Peer Court participated in the National Week of Action through social media and by planning an event: Education NOT Incarceration. This was the first time anyone in Utah had participated in the National Week of Action! Throughout the week, our three organizations, students, educators, and community activists, tweeted and posted on Facebook to raise awareness and educate our supporters about the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
At the end of the week, the public event, Education NOT Incarceration, took place at the Utah State Bar Association building in Salt Lake City. This event was intended to raise awareness, educate, and empower students and parents who are directly affected by the School-to-Prison Pipeline. We screened a short documentary, out of the ACLU’s Freedom Files films, called “Freedom to Learn” and followed it with a lively community discussion. A fun part of the event was a large interactive art piece where participants wrote why they wanted to end the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Attendees also took part in our whiteboard project where they could write a short message on a whiteboard, have their picture taken, and have it uploaded live to the website Tumblr to be used in our social media campaign. Attendees also watched poet Tami Porter-Jones perform poems on the struggles of ESL students in education and the School-to-Prison pipeline.
From the discussion of over 60 community members participating, it was clear that many Utahns are aware of this problem and care; they simply needed a place to come together and talk. There were judges, school administrators, students of different grade levels, and parents with small children in the room who all cared that more students are being criminalized in schools. This event was not meant to be the end all conversation that ended the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Instead, this should be just the beginning of a relationship with those affected by this trend, where we can work together to get our community’s needs met. By working together, we see the great possibility of action being taken by lawmakers, school administrators, and police.
For more information about our work on ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline please visit www.acluutah.org/racial-justice