Plugging the school-prison pipeline
Action for Children North Carolina last week released a troubling report, “From Push Out to Lock Up, North Carolina's Accelerated School-to-Prison Pipeline.”
The report concluded, the Raleigh-based advocacy group said in an email announcing its release, that “poorly funded schools, punitive discipline practices and inadequate education placements for suspended students push some North Carolina students out of classrooms and into courthouses often for minor misconduct, causing them to lose critical academic ground and face long odds against graduation.”
That email went out Wednesday morning.
It underscored dramatically the importance of a report Durham Public Schools officials presented to members of the Durham School Board just the evening before.
The report addressed the school system’s effort to develop alternatives to suspending students, including the new Second Chance Academy at W. G. Pearson Elementary School.
Locally, concerns have been raised about the high rate of suspensions of African American and Hispanic students. The system faces a federal complaint by a student with disabilities who contends he received no education services during 34 days he was suspended from middle school last school year.
As the Action for Children report made clear, Durham is far from alone in grappling with this problem. “The funneling of students from schools to jail or prison is a national phenomenon that has come to be called the school-to-prison pipeline,” the report says, and it focuses on student suspensions as both a contributor to and also an effect of juvenile arrests, prosecution and incarceration.
“Repeated short-term and long-term suspensions and expulsions have been shown to make it much more difficult and unlikely for students to graduate from high school,” the report warns. “Loss of valuable classroom instructional time coupled with the rejection and social isolation many children experience when they are kicked out of school cause many suspended students to lose academic ground -- a loss some never regain.
“When a student is suspended from school without alternative educational placements, he or she may engage in unsupervised activities, becoming more at risk for juvenile or criminal justice system involvement.”
The Second Chance Academy the school board’s Instructional Services Committee discussed Tuesday night aims to avoid that outcome. It was operated as a pilot program last year, taking suspended students from three middle schools. This year, it has been expanded to include all of the district’s middle schools.
The system also operates a Short-Term Intervention program that serves middle- and high school students; with the Second Chance Academy’s creation, it may focus just on high school.
“It feels like we’re taking strides in the right direction,” board chairwoman Heidi Carter said Tuesday. We can’t disagree. But given that she noted that the system has been working for nine years to develop these programs – and given the seriousness of the problem – those strides need to turn into leaps.
The evidence is clear. It is a problem that we ignore now at our long-term peril.