The DSC challenges the systemic problem of pushout in our nation’s schools and works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. As a national coalition, the Dignity in Schools Campaign builds power amongst parents, youth, organizers, advocates and educators to transform their own communities, support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization and the dismantling of public schools, and fight racism and all forms of oppression. We bring together our members through direct action organizing, public policy advocacy and leadership development to fight for the human right of every young person to a quality education and to be treated with dignity.
The DSC started in 2006 when local grassroots and advocacy groups fighting to end school pushout came together to share information and strategies and build a common framework for dignity and human rights in our schools. In 2009, we held our first national conference, released the National Resolution for Ending School Pushout, and shared the first draft of a Model School Code based on fundamental human rights principles. In 2010 we held our first annual National Week of Action and our first Days at the Capitol, engaging groups around the country in collective advocacy to impact federal law and policy. In 2011, as our campaign continued to grow, we began a process to develop our membership structures to secure grassroots leadership in the coalition. In 2012 the DSC and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign launched a Moratorium on out-of-school suspensions and the DSC published the Model Code on Education and Dignity.
The DSC has now grown into a multi-stakeholder coalition made up of youth, parents, educators, grassroots groups, and policy and legal advocacy groups, which strives to ensure that those most affected by the education system and school pushout are at the center of our work and leadership structures. DSC’s Membership is structured to create a space for all to both contribute to the work and to benefit from the collective advancements of the coalition and local successes of its members.
We envision a public school system that values students, parents and communities as decision-makers with a fundamental human right to shape their education. In this educational system, schools are safe, healthy and nurturing environments where every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Schools work towards preventing trauma, repairing harm and promoting healing, and reject a culture of punishment, and criminalization. Schools provide equitable resources, adopt culturally relevant curricula, and address racism and all forms of oppression. In this educational system, education is a human right. Our schools value the humanity and dignity of all people that is essential for students to succeed. As we build a movement to realize this vision, we see our work as connected to broader movements for social justice and human rights in the United States and globally.
Our Theory of Change
As part of our strategic planning process in 2015, we developed our theory of change that includes our values, our strategies for change, and our long-terms goals to end school pushout and dismatle the school-to-prison pipeline. You can view our theory of change here.
What is School Pushout?
School pushout refers to the numerous and systemic factors that prevent or discourage young people from remaining on track to complete their education and has severe and lasting consequences for students, parents, schools, and communities. These factors include, among others, the failure to provide essential components of a high quality education, lack of stakeholder participation in decision-making, over-reliance on zero-tolerance practices and punitive measures such as suspensions and expulsions, over-reliance on law enforcement tactics and ceding of disciplinary authority to law enforcement personnel, and a history of systemic racism and inequality. These factors have an impact on all students, but have a disproportionate impact on historically disenfranchised youth.
What We Do
- Advocate for federal policy change to promote alternatives to zero-tolerance discipline through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, aka No Child Left Behind) and other federal initiatives.
- Support state and local campaigns by member groups to end pushout and implement positive approaches to school climate and discipline, such as positive behavior supports, restorative practices, conflict resolution and mediation programs.
- Develop model school policies for school districts and legislators that guarantee fundamental human rights standards for quality education, participation, dignity and freedom from discrimination.
- Share information on solutions to pushout and strategies for change through our website, tele-conferences, webinars, and national meetings.
DSC Principles of Unity
As DSC members, we make our best efforts to apply the following Principles of Unity to our work together:
1. We challenge the systemic problem of pushout in our nation's schools and promote local and national alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, criminalization, punishment and removal.
2. We advocate for the human rights of all young people to a quality education, to be treated with dignity, to be free from discrimination and to participate in decision-making that effects their education.
3. Our coalition is made up of multiple stakeholder groups—youth, parents, educators, and advocates—and we strive to be led by people most affected by school pushout and zero-tolerance discipline: youth who have been suspended, expelled, pushed out or criminalized, and their families. We work with each other to expand our knowledge base and shift power to those most affected.
4. We make sure that our members, and especially those most affected, own and make decisions about their stories, their analysis, their solutions, and their victories.
5. We are building a strong, clear, and explicit analysis in our work at all levels, intentionally examining issues such as race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, ability, religion, language and age. We regularly self reflect and evaluate our practices as we seek to challenge injustice, be it in ourselves, our organizations, our communities, or our movement.
6. We put movement identity ahead of organizational identity. We are building a common set of political goals and strategies appropriate to building the leadership, participation, and influence of those most affected.
7. Leadership development occurs at all times. We are not led by individual, charismatic leaders, but we have an accountable model of power sharing, power conscious, and collective leadership ethic.
8. We support our work together by sharing information, knowledge, skills, relationships, funding strategies and opportunities, visibility, access, and political wisdom.
Definitions: Pushout refers to the numerous and systemic factors that prevent or discourage young people from remaining on track to complete their education and has severe and lasting consequences for students, parents, schools, and communities. These factors include, among others, the failure to provide essential components of a high quality education, lack of stakeholder participation in decision-making, over-reliance on zero-tolerance practices and punitive measures such as suspensions and expulsions, over-reliance on law enforcement tactics and ceding of disciplinary authority to law enforcement personnel, and a history of systemic racism and inequality. These factors have an impact on all students, but have a disproportionate impact on historically disenfranchised youth.
A zero tolerance discipline policy is a school discipline policy or practice that results in an automatic disciplinary consequence such as in-school or out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or involuntary school transfer for any student who commits one or more listed offenses. A school discipline policy may be a zero tolerance policy even if administrators have some discretion to modify the consequence on a case-by-case basis.
Criminalization is the labeling of an individual or group, his or her activities, culture and/or identity as deviant, dangerous and undesirable and the corresponding suppression of that individual or group by authorities. Criminalized people and populations do not need to engage in illegal or harmful behavior to be treated as criminals but are regularly targeted for surveillance, police stops, frisks and questioning, and school suspension and expulsion. Criminalization often extends beyond police and court systems to impact the larger society’s perception and treatment of the individual or group. (Adapted from Youth Justice Coalition definition)
Human rights are necessary for people to live life in freedom, dignity and equality, and to have their basic needs met. Human rights apply to every person equally no matter where they come from simply because they are human beings. The U.S. civil rights movement is part of a human rights movement to fight for civil rights to equality and freedom from discrimination, as well as economic and social rights to education, work, health and housing. (Adapted from NESRI and CADRE definition)
A social movement is the mass mobilization and self-organization of powerless people in order to gain or secure their rights. It is composed of defiant local mobilizations connected to other local movements with similar aims by formal and informal networks of information and support. It surmounts the expectations, plans and instructions of formal leadership and existing organizations by acting spontaneously, taking risks, and behaving unpredictably. (Social Justice Leadership definition)