Over the past sixty years, many laws have been put in place to ensure the equal treatment of historically disadvantaged racial minorities in the U.S. That doesn’t mean, however, that we’ve solved the many insidious problems associated with racial discrimination.
This blog was written by Erica Janicki, Fall 2015 Intern, University of Utah
For example, though today’s public schools are technically no longer racially segregated, today’s public school students don’t enjoy the same equal treatment in the classroom. We now know about the devastating realities of the “School-To-Prison Pipeline,” or the persistent phenomenon that sees children out of our public schools and into the juvenile justice system.
The school-to-prison pipeline is especially entrenched in areas with strikingly low state and federal funding for education. It is further exacerbated by all-too-popular “Zero Tolerance” policies, which tend to take minor offenses and blow them out of proportion (while not significantly improving safety for students). In our age of the School-to-Prison Pipeline, students are often expelled, suspended, and sometimes arrested for minor offenses that would have in the past caused a trip to the principal’s office.
Suspending youth who are seen as a “disruption” ultimately removes the very students who may be suffering or lacking in their home life and places them back into the setting that is potentially the source of anxiety and troubled behavior. And when it comes to the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Utah is no exception.
In 2014, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law released “From Fingerpaint to Fingerprints: The School-To-Prison Pipeline in Utah”, a report detailing the inequality in Utah schools. In the 2011-2012 academic year, there were 1,230 disciplinary actions in Utah, including referrals to law enforcement, expulsions, and school related arrests, with one in five students in Utah dropping out.
The report showed that black students are three times more likely to be punished for minor offenses. Interestingly, teachers across the country report that while their black students were more likely to be disciplined, they did not actually act out more than their white counterparts.
Additionally, American Indian students are, on average, three and a half times more likely to be disciplined, even for representing their traditional culture. This disproportionate discipline ratio is as high as six to one in more rural school districts, such as Utah’s Iron County School District.
Utah is in desperate need of concrete action to protect students of color – as well as LGBTQ students and those with disabilities – from being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.
Utah school districts must place an emphasis on sending referred students to restorative justice programs, such as Peer Courts, that focus on encouraging positive behavior and community involvement, rather than harsh punishment that forces students out of school. In a healthy school system where all children are valued, referrals to restorative justice programs and even simple administrative disciplinary remedies (like detention) should drastically outnumber expulsions and suspensions.
This is why the ACLU of Utah is participating in the 2015 National Week of Action on School Pushout from October 3rd to 11th. Across the country, as part of the National Week of Action, organizations and activists will help raise awareness and support for rethinking discipline policies in public schools. For more information on the cause and how to get involved, visit http://www.dignityinschools.org/our-work/week-of-action.
You can also join the ALCU of Utah, in partnership with other community organizations, on October 7th from 5:30-8:00 PM in the Law and Justice Center to learn more about what you can do to end the school-to-prison pipeline.