Friday September 21st 2012 was School-to-Prison Pipeline Symposium (hopefully annual symposium). This symposium was sponsored primarily by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA). This was possibly the first opportunity to discuss the pipeline in a very public venue. I, and others I work with have been having this discussion. In fact many at the symposium have voiced concerns that the community has been voicing concern over the pipeline for 20+ years. So what’s new??
This isn’t a rhetorical question…
During the Symposium there was certainly an open discussion about the reality of the pipeline. This isn’t debated by many. African American, Black and Hispanic youth are disproportionately represented in all school discipline statistics. They are disproportionately represented at every grade level. They are disproportionately represented in special education. Furthermore, they are not any more poorly behaved then white students. They are more often referred for similar behavior and they experience harsher punishments when referred. While there may be some room for debate around these issues, the conversation wasn’t and generally isn’t about whether this problem exists (even from conservatives). The discussion generally focuses on what to DO about it.
Sadly, I didn’t hear much in the way of solutions… Two schools were represented as locations where change is taking place. Lincoln High School in Walla Walla implemented a “compassionate schools” model. While this is a great pilot project it is a project in an “alternative high school.” First Creek Middle School in Tacoma is implementing Restorative Justice in their school. Yet, this project is just beginning. Largely the community is without answers. Real policy solutions are essential for this discussion.
If the problem is “pushing out students” whatever policy schools/community implement they must change the “push out” effect. Reducing suspensions will never change the problem. While certainly there is some value in reducing the ineffective tool and its negative consequences, there needs to be serious work to change how we think about discipline. (Soap Box) Restorative Justice when implemented with fidelity is a policy tool that changes the dynamics of discipline. RJ is a system that holds youth accountable, engages and meets the needs of the victim, and supports youth in staying in school.