Wednesday, January 27, Emilie Raguso, Berkeleyside

The Berkeley School Board said a resounding “no” to a proposal to add a second police officer to its campus roster during a discussion earlier this month about ways to address safety and racial tension on campus.

The proposal, from Superintendent Donald Evans, was among a group of ideas collected from the community in December following several race-related incidents at Berkeley High in recent years, including the hanging of a noose on campus, disparaging statements that were slipped into the school yearbook last spring, and racial threats posted on a school computer in the fall.

The Berkeley Police Department had won a Department of Justice grant for $125,000 over a three-year period to help fund an additional school resource officer position. There is just one school resource officer in the district, stationed at Berkeley High on weekdays.

Berkeley Technology Academy Principal Sheila Quintana has lobbied in recent years for an officer who could also be present on her campus, the district’s lone continuation school. The grant would have helped provide funding for that position, said Capt. Dave Frankel of the Berkeley Police Department.

The main function of the school resource officer, Frankel said, is to build relationships with students, answering questions about police, helping talk through incidents that may have upset them and working with kids to keep them out of trouble.

“We don’t want them to be involved in the disciplinary process, that’s not what we want,” Frankel said. But he also acknowledged that, when violent situations do arise, it is helpful to have someone on campus who is familiar with the personalities and nuances.

“When crimes are reported on campus, that’s the primary report taker,” he said, “who also does what is possible to try to handle things at the lowest level and try to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system, using diversion programs, and working with parents and kids and their teachers.”

Relying on other patrol officers to handle school-related calls may not be as effective as having officers who are assigned to schools, Frankel said.

“They don’t have the same level of expertise — working with kids, knowing who’s who on campus, and having relationships with teachers to try to tailor the police response to the child’s needs — because they don’t know the background and the family history,” he said.

He also noted that the department works hard to choose school resource officers with the right skill set for the job. The current officer has a background in child development and juvenile probation. He’s a coach who’s married to a teacher.

(The Berkeley Unified School District denied a prior request from Berkeleyside, in 2014, to shadow the school resource officer to see how the job works.)

In the past, Berkeley had as many as four school resource officers but now has just one, who is stationed at Berkeley High. Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said last year that, on average, 3%-4% of a department is assigned to the schools. If Berkeley followed suit, that would be as many as seven officers.

Even with the grant, the endeavor would not have been cheap. Frankel said the city and school district would have needed to allocate an estimated $75,000 each over the three years to cover the full cost of the position, and that the grant would also have required full local funding for a fourth year.

Currently, the city covers the school resource officer cost for four days (Monday through Thursday), while the district picks up the fifth day and overtime for special events.

School Board members said at their Jan. 13 meeting that, for the most part, it really wasn’t about the money.

“I will never support having more police on our campus,” said Judy Appel. She added that she felt compelled to “warn” fellow board members about the grant, and believes the police department will try to “dress it up” like a restorative justice solution. “I will never vote to have another police officer on our high school. I’m just not going to do it.”

Added Board Member Ty Alper about the grant: “I think we can take those off the table almost permanently.… No more police officers in our schools even if it was not a resource issue.”

Among the other ideas suggested by Evans, which board members expressed support for: improving communication about threats to campus safety; the possibility of a policy to address hate crimes and racial harassment; the development of an anonymous reporting system; establishing a policy for police interactions with students; and providing additional training for the existing school resource officer focused on “expectations roles and responsibilities.”

The district also plans to continue developing its restorative justice program, with an update coming later this semester. Last year, the district hired a restorative justice coordinator for BHS, and has convened a committee to determine “what some of those practices should be at the high school,” Evans told the board.

Appel thanked district staff and others who have been working on coming up with a response to last year’s troubling incidents at Berkeley High. She said she looks forward to “continuing the courageous converations that we have begun,” adding “we’re all so messed up about race.”

Students told the board they did not feel the district’s response was specific enough to Berkeley High, and to demands they presented in December about changes they feel should be made.

“The way the response made us feel was very small,” said Nebeyat Zekaryas, co-president of the BHS Black Student Union. The students did not address the police issue, but asked for changes to the curriculum and for the creation of a Black Resource Center where students can feel comfortable.

Sam Frankel, a representative from the Berkeley NAACP also said the district needs to do more to address racially charged incidents on campus.

“Until the black community hears why you didn’t address this seriously last year…. there’s going to continue to be very serious concern,” he said. “There’s a track record that needs to be addressed.”

Laura Babbit, speaking on behalf of community group Parents of Children of African Descent, said some of the accountability measures proposed by Evans would be a significant improvement on the status quo.

“You’ve taken a stand — we appreciate all the stands,” she told the board. “But this is time to deliver.”

The district plans to report back to the board in February with an update on the Evans proposals.

Board President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler said by email after the vote that “The board was very clear that with regards to immediate action we would rather our district put resources to training, and programs that are prevention and intervention; and build relationships between students and adults rather than additional police/policing on campus. Programs like high school counselors, a robust Restorative Justice, training for teachers and programs like Peacekeepers and adults that care and engage our students. We would rather that our students learn to be allies and our schools utilize restorative practices.”

Police Capt. Frankel said, after the Jan. 13 vote, that BPD had been in talks with the school district prior to seeking the grant, and that the superintendent had been in favor of the proposal. Frankel said the Police Department is still hoping to find a way to partner with the district to take advantage of the grant.

Superintendent Evans did not respond to an interview request from Berkeleyside.

Tonight’s board meeting
At the Jan. 27 School Board meeting, there are two reports on Measure A revenue and spending on the action calendar, followed by some discussion of the governor’s budget for 2016-17. There’s an information item featuring data related to diversity and how the district assigns students to elementary schools (Item 14.2).

The consent calendar includes several updates about construction projects. The district has asked for board approval to add $111,000 to the budget for the Longfellow Cafe Project, which was approved at $375,000. The cafe is across from the main Longfellow Middle School campus on Ward Street, and the district may need to add traffic safety features to the project, in addition to other changes. See Item 11.6 for more information.

The district is also asking to bump up the John Muir modernization project by $83,000, from an original amount of $180,000. The money is set to come out of Measure I. See Item 11.7 for details.

The district has completed installation of cameras at Berkeley High, Washington and Emerson, and new public address systems at Washington, Emerson, Thousand Oaks and Rosa Parks. Tonight’s consent calendar item would officially complete the project, which was paid for through Measure AA. See Item 11.10 for more info.

Meeting details
The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education generally meets twice monthly on Wednesdays at 2020 Bonar St. The entrance to the board chambers is around the corner on Addison Street. There is a large parking lot around the corner from Addison Street, on Browning Street.

The regular meeting is set to begin by 7:30 p.m. Public comment is limited to 30 minutes, with a 3-minute limit per speaker. Public comment takes place at the beginning and end of the meeting, rather than in response to each item.

Meetings are televised live on Berkeley Community Media channel 33, and rebroadcast the following Thursday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Meetings are also recorded for radio and played after the meeting on KPFB 89.3 FM. They are also streamed live, and posted online after the meeting. Other BUSD-related videos are posted online at Vimeo.

Originally posted by Berkeleyside 

Wednesday, January 27, Peter Holley, The Washington Post

Mandy Cortes was distraught and downright furious. Her son, Anthony Ruelas, had been suspended from school after defying a teacher’s order so that he could help a classmate who was suffering an asthma attack. Instead of staying in his seat, as instructed, he had carried the girl to the nurse’s office — and, his family said, he had been disciplined for doing so.

Cortes decided she couldn’t send her son back to Gateway Middle School in Killeen, Tex. She told The Washington Post that he will begin home-schooling with his aunt next week.

Not only has she lost faith in school officials, Cortes said, but so has her 15-year-old son, who struggled to wrap his head around the idea that he was being punished for possibly saving someone’s life last week.

Whatever lingering doubts Cortes had about home-schooling the eighth-grader disappeared, she told The Post, when school officials released a statement denying that a student had been “disciplined for providing aid to another student.” At the time, she said, Ruelas was serving a two-day suspension.

“I think it really did bother him, and the fact that he feels like the adults at the school didn’t care, that’s why he’s not going back,” she said. “You don’t care about him, his classmates and this girl that almost died. How is he going to come back to school and respect you, and after you’ve been lying about him?”

She added: “He already has the bad kid jacket on because he’s at this alternative school, and now they’re basically calling him a liar, too.”

The episode, she said, has been “infuriating.”

The saga has garnered international attention, and the boy’s mother said their family has received supportive emails from as far as the Netherlands.

A San Francisco businessman has even offered to pay for Ruelas to participate in a two-day Wilderness First Aid course in Austin. Cortes said her son has expressed interest in becoming a fireman or an EMT and is “very excited” about the offer, which he accepted. He also plans to accept an offer from Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), who invited Ruelas to intern in his Capitol Hill office this summer, the boy’s mother said.

Refusing to let anyone leave the classroom, the teacher emailed the school nurse and waited for a reply, telling students to stay calm and remain in their seats.

When Tishica Fisher fell out of her chair several minutes later, Ruelas later recounted, he decided to take action.

“We ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse,” a teacher’s report quotes him as saying, according to Fox News Latino.

In a statement provided to The Post on Wednesday, the Killeen Independent School District said that its crisis management plan directs teachers “to contact the Campus Principal and the Nurse in the case of a Medical Emergency.”

The district did not mention Ruelas by name but said that “the student was suspended because of an unrelated incident.” The statement said that district officials were “unable to provide details about individual students,” citing privacy laws.

Fisher recovered and later thanked Ruelas in person.

“All I know is I blacked out, and I felt myself getting picked up by somebody,” she told NBC affiliate KCEN.

Cortes told The Post that she thinks her son’s decision to take action was influenced by the death of his father, who was fatally stabbed in the parking lot of a San Antonio grocery store on Thanksgiving Day in 2007, when Anthony was just 7.

Anthony Ruelas Sr. had gone to the store to buy beer when he got into a fight over a girlfriend, police later told the San Antonio Express-News.

“Two other men got involved in the scuffle, and as one was leaving the parking lot he threw a large butcher knife at two men who were following him,” the Express-News reported. “The knife missed the men but hit Ruelas in the chest.”

Ruelas, 33 at the time, was pronounced dead at the scene, the newspaper reported.

As a child, Cortes said, her son overheard vivid descriptions of his father’s final moments, when he collapsed on the ground, gasping for breath, his body writhing in pain. The description haunted the boy, and he re-created the scene in drawings over and over again in a notebook, Cortes said.

“The way he talks about Tishica’s asthma attack — the little things he says, like how she was grasping for air, the way her body was moving — it really scared him,” Cortes said. “I think it also reminded him of his father’s death.”

When he saw a life possibly slipping away, he reacted instinctively, his mother said. It’s possible, she said, that her son understood what was going on better than his teacher: He has two cousins with asthma, one of whom slipped into a coma after a severe attack.

Ruelas is protective of both relatives and frequently worries about their safety, his mother said.

Cortes thinks that’s why witnessing this latest attack was so hard on her son. By the time he got Fisher outside the classroom, she said, the tiny middle schooler had gone limp in his arms. Ruelas was crushed, his mother said, thinking that his friend had died and that he hadn’t done enough to stop it from happening.

Within minutes, Cortes said, her son had been written up and school officials were refusing to give him any information about Fisher’s condition. Cortes said she received a call from school officials telling her that her son had been suspended for walking out of class.

He’s still processing what happened, she said.

“Even now, he’ll just get really quiet, and I can see him sitting there in his mind, playing it back over and over,” Cortes said. “He’ll say: ‘I wonder if she’s all right? Do you think that something like that could happen again?’

“I know it bothers him. It’s a lot for a young person to experience.”

Cortes isn’t the only parent furious about the way Fisher’s asthma attack was handled by school officials.

In an interview with KCEN, Fisher’s stepfather, Jeffery Bailey, said that while he’s shocked by how Ruelas was treated, he’s even more shocked that his daughter was left to suffer on a classroom floor.

“Where was security at and why didn’t the nurse come to the room?” Bailey asked, according to KCEN. “It took an email?”

Despite his frustration, Bailey may be the only person alive prouder of Ruelas than his mother.

“I wanna invite him as part of my family,” he said, referring to the heroic teenager. “I don’t know what I would have done, I really don’t.”

Originally posted by The Washington Post

Tuesday, January 26, Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post

“No excuses” charter schools have become a prominent feature of modern school reform. What exactly are they? This is how Joan Goodman, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the school’s Teach For America program, defined them in this post:

These schools start with the belief that there’s no reason for the large academic gaps that exist between poor minority students and more privileged children. They argue that if we just used better methods, demanded more, had higher expectations, enforced these higher expectations through very rigorous and uniform teaching methods and a very uniform and scripted curriculum geared to being successful on high-stakes tests, we can minimize or even eradicate these large gaps, high rates of drop outs and the academic failures of these children. To reach these objectives, these schools have developed very elaborate behavioral regimes that they insist all children follow, starting in kindergarten. Submission, obedience, and self-control are very large values. They want kids to submit. You can’t really do this kind of instruction if you don’t have very submissive children who are capable of high levels of inhibition and do whatever they’re told.

Here is an open letter from Ramon Griffin, the former dean of students at a New Orleans “no excuses” charter school, who urges teachers and staff at such schools to question the model’s social and emotional costs on young people. Griffin was also a charter school teacher and a juvenile probation and detention officer. He is currently working on his doctorate in educational administration at Michigan State University. Contact him at griff519@msu.edu, or visit his website.

This appeared on the Edushyster website of Jennifer Berkshire, freelance journalist and public education advocate who worked for six years editing a newspaper for the American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts. She gave me permission to run this post. Here is Ramon Griffin’s open letter to teachers and staff of no-excuses charter schools:

Dear You:

You were selected to teach at your school because of your intelligence, spunk, tenacity, vigor and, most of all, your passion for public education. You are a risk-taker. You have a can-do attitude with swag to match. You believe that every child has the capacity to achieve academically and are committing your life to ensuring that you affect change in every student you encounter. Your dedication to ensuring that traditionally marginalized students receive a first-class education is commendable. But do you know how much power you hold? Do you truly understand the “no excuses” school culture that you are part of? Do you know the psychological and emotional costs that the “no excuses” model has on students of color? Furthermore, do you care to know?

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Colonizing the Black Natives: Reflections from a former New Orleans Charter School Dean of Students.” I started the piece by asking if some charters’ practices were new forms of colonial hegemony. It is vital to add that while I was employed at the school, this thought never crossed my mind. My writings were taken by some charter management administrators and staff as an “attack” instead of an opportunity critically engage and refine, deconstruct and reconstruct practices that are doing more harm than good. This time around, I’m hoping to encourage teachers and staff at “no excuses” charter schools to acknowledge what is transpiring in their schools so that we can begin to push back against these practices and transform our schools.

I’ll start by offering a few examples of my own. When I chased young black ladies to see if their nails were polished, or if they had added a different color streak to their hair, or when I followed young men to make sure that their hair wasn’t styled naturally, I could have been critically engaging my administrative peers on why these practices were the law at our school—and how exactly they contributed to getting students into and through college.

When my school punished young people for not having items school leaders knew their families couldn’t afford, I could have been pushing back against policies that effectively punished students for being poor.

When we pulled students out of their classrooms for countless hours for minor infractions even as we drilled them constantly on the importance of instruction time, we could have been taking our own advice.

Or when we suspended students from school for numerous days, we could have been providing alternatives that disciplined them but kept them in school.

I recently spoke on a panel in Nashville about the psychological and emotional costs that “no excuses” school cultures have on students of color. Afterwards, I was approached by a young white male who told me that he couldn’t understand why parents of color complained about “no excuses” school cultures when they’d chosen to enroll their children in the schools. But the idea that parents should not complain because they purposely enrolled their children in these schools is flawed.

Parents, whether they’re in Nashville or New Orleans, desire that their children attend schools that will provide them a rigorous and first-class education. They’re sold a school culture “package” that claims to bring out the best in every student, challenging them to be creative, take risks and think critically. Yet too often, once the package is unwrapped and a culture of compliance is unveiled, students and families feel that they have been sold a dream.

Is it realistic to expect parents to inherently grasp the psychological and emotional costs of the “no excuses” model when many of the teachers and school disciplinarians who enforce these policies don’t have a deep understanding of their effects either? In my experience, staff members are trained to follow the rules regarding discipline and school culture without questioning school leaders about why rules and practices exist in the first place. The idea of critically engaging administrators at these schools seems to intimidate staff, who fear potential backlash for speaking out against culture and disciplinary practices they don’t agree with. They don’t know how to push back critically and meaningfully without being disciplined or even losing their jobs.

Whatever the reason, the lack of inquiry by and pushback from highly educated professionals regarding the questionable socialization practices and disciplinary policies of “no excuses” schools is striking. Even more astonishing is that the same things young people of color are punished for in these schools, their teachers were probably raised and encouraged to value. As students themselves, they were probably given the opportunity to be critical, to take risks, to disagree, to not conform, to ask for clarity, to push back, to show emotion and to be relentless about finding their own truth.

Many of these educators are no doubt raising their own children to do similar things. But as teachers and staff at
“no excuses” charter schools, they are trained to instill the opposite values in youth of color, even punishing students for being critical or showing emotion. Why? I ask this question, not as a researcher or as a doctoral student, but as a colleague who has navigated the same terrain that you are currently treading. I understand—trust me. I am truly concerned that we are not asking the right questions. Why has “no excuses” been celebrated, packaged and sold to people of color as the prescription for educational and career excellence? Why is it “no excuses” for some and not for all?

Ask yourself if you would allow your own children to be treated the way that some of your students are being treated. If the answer is “no,” then there is no excuse for complying with rules and policies you’d never tolerate where your own children or loved ones are concerned. Your students are young people, not robots. They are human children and sometimes their circumstances do warrant exceptions to the rules. Sometimes their excuses are legitimate.

For example, a student who shows up out of uniform because he doesn’t have a washer/dryer at home has a legitimate excuse.

A kid whose family has been transient and is currently homeless has a legitimate excuse to not be in proper uniform. The school should be aware of the situation and at least attempt to provide clothing for the young person.

A kid who has three younger siblings he has to care for, clean up, help with homework, protect and teach because they live with their elderly grandmother who was thrust into legal guardianship because his mother was abusive and they never met their father has a legitimate excuse.

A kid who has witnessed his mother being shot by his father has a legitimate excuse to not want to walk on a line, talk to anybody or participate in class.

A kid who hasn’t eaten a nutritious meal in weeks, but makes it to school every day has a legitimate excuse to feel tired, to not want to participate in an activity or to look at an adult in the eye while shaking their hand. But what happens at most “no excuses” schools is that students get detention or worse because there are no excuses.

Is this what John Dewey meant when he described school as “the social center” of the community and as a site for building a democratic society? Are “no excuses” schools preparing citizens, training workers or preparing individuals to compete for social positions? If the answers to these questions aren’t clear, it may be time to seriously re-evaluate the goals of your school.

Lastly, I believe that it is time for a thorough examination of the psychological and emotional impact of “no excuses” policies and school cultures. It is time for everyone involved to start asking some critical questions. Stop being fearful. Let your voices be heard.

Ask questions, push back, critically engage, and transform your school and your workplace.

Originally posted by The Washington Post

Tuesday, January 26, Laura Isensee, Houston Public Media

For several months, the Houston school board has grappled with how it disciplines its youngest students. Now the board is poised to make a major change, since it reversed its vote at its recent meeting and moved closer to a ban.

A lot has changed since the trustees first considered ending suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade last fall.

To start, there are two new board members.

“I’m going to vote for it because it’s discriminatory, whether it was intended to be discriminatory or not, it’s been discriminatory,” said Jolanda Jones, the new trustee for District IV, expressing support for the ban.

Data from the Houston Independent School District show that last school year, black students were involved in 70 percent of discipline incidents in early grades, even though they make up 25 percent of the student population.

The president of the Houston teachers union also came out in favor of the ban. And more state lawmakers showed up at the board and pressed for discipline reform.

The result? The board reversed its vote and supported the ban at its meeting in January.

“The saying goes it takes a village to raise a child and I think that really played out in a beautiful way here,” said Morgan Craven, director of the school-to-prison pipeline project at the nonprofit Texas Appleseed. The nonprofit, which studied the extent of suspending young children across Texas, advocated for the discipline change.

Craven said that the community support offers a lesson to other districts.

“And then in terms of the policy itself, what can be learned is that this is possible. We don’t have to use these harmful punishments against young children and there are alternatives,” Craven said.

Research shows that young students who are suspended are more likely to drop out later and get involved with the criminal justice system.

“We don’t kick our kids out of our house when they are unruly. We give them consequences; we teach them the right behaviors. Those are the formative years and to exile them in the formative years sends the wrong message to those children,” said Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who brought the ban back for more consideration in one of her last acts as school board president.

If the school board approves the change with a final vote in February, the Houston Independent School District will become the first district in Texas to ban suspensions for young children. 

Originally posted by Houston Public Media

Tuesday, January 26, Kristina Rizga, Mother Jones

"What do you miss about Syria the most?" I ask Nour on a rainy December afternoon in 2015, as we board a train after school. The soft-spoken 17-year old has invited me to join her at "I Stand with Arabs and Muslims," a rally in San Francisco organized in the wake of the biggest spike in anti-Muslim violence in a decade, following deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

"Everything," Nour answers. Dressed in a black "Youth Power" T-shirt, black jeans, and white sneakers, she hesitates to find her next words. "I miss the sense of community, family togetherness." She begins to list off details from the life she used to live in the rural town of As-Suwayda, about an hour south of Damascus: the sound of the fire in the small, propane stove in their living room; the smell of hot mate tea; the cracking of sunflower seeds; her aunts' chatter. She misses the big fig tree in her grandmother's backyard and all the books they had in their house. They were mostly novels. Nour's mother and father taught Arabic literature in local public schools. Nour was a carefree, bookish teenager in Syria—one of the top students in her school, stressed out about exams and grades.

"It's strange for me to think of myself as an activist now," says Nour. "But there is a growing tension I feel at school, after Paris, especially toward two girls from Yemen who wear headscarves over long, black dresses. Students often ask them, 'Why do you wear this? Can you take it off? I want to see your hair!' I want to help them feel safer and more included at school."

In recent months, anti-immigrant rhetoric has spiked across the country—and in local and national politics. After the Paris attacks, more than two-dozen Republican governors said they don't want Syrian refugees in their states. And Donald Trump said that if he were president he would kick all Syrian refugees out of the country; Ted Cruz said Muslims should be sent to "majority-Muslim countries," but that Christians should be provided with a safe haven in the United States. Cruz made his comments about Christians while speaking at a middle school.

During that same month, harassment and violence against Muslims—and Sikhs who wear turbans or Indian women who wear headscarves and are mistaken for being Muslim—tripled, according to data from California State University's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. A passenger shot a Muslim taxi driver in Pennsylvania after asking him about ISIS. A pregnant Muslim woman was assaulted in Southern California. In Florida, someone shot several bullets into the home of a Muslim family.

The reports of threats and attacks are on the rise in schools across the United States, too. A seventh grader in Vandalia, Ohio, threatened to shoot a Muslim boy on the bus ride home from school, calling him a "towel head," a "terrorist," and "the son of ISIS." A sixth-grade girl wearing a hijab in the Bronx was reportedly punched by three boys who called her "ISIS." Even before Paris and San Bernardino, a 2014 survey by the Council on American Islamic Relations found that 52 percent of Muslim students in California reported being the target of verbal abuse and insults. That's double the number of students who report being bullied based on gender and race nationwide.

What's most distressing to the council is how many anti-Muslim incidents have started with a teacher or a school administrator, as was the case with 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested after he brought a clock to his school in Texas. (The Justice Department is now investigating Ahmed's former high school.) One in five Muslim students in California said they experienced discrimination by a teacher or an administrator at school. Of all the kids who were harassed, only 42 percent said reporting a problem to an adult made a difference. Muslim teens I have interviewed over the past two months have said many students don't even report bullying because "students like to call Muslim and Arab students 'terrorists' in a joking way," Nour explained.

As Nour and I emerge from the train station in the light winter rain, we walk toward City Hall in downtown San Francisco. About 200 people have gathered: middle-aged women in colorful headscarves, older men in ties and suits, young men holding signs that read, "ISIS doesn't belong to us! ISIS is against us!" and "Don't Ask Me About ISIS. Ask Your Government!" The crowd also includes several Jewish and Christian groups who came out to support the rally and about a dozen journalists. At one point, a burly white man with curly yellow hair interrupts the speaker and yells, "Go home!" before he is ushered away by the police.

"The Middle East is so complicated right now, and it is the least studied place in school," Nour tells me. "We need to study about Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and not just about Islam and religion. I want people to learn about our contributions. We are not just people who fight all of the time and deal with religion and oppression."

As we walk toward the front of the crowd, Nour spots Sharif Zakout, the youth organizer from the local Arab Resource and Organizing Center (and the main sponsor of the gathering). He was speaking about the rise of hate crimes across the country. Nour met Zakout last year when he came to her San Francisco school to talk to the kids about starting an Arab Youth Organizing chapter.

Nour's high school is one of the most diverse in the Bay Area; more than 40 languages are spoken there. When Zakout came to the school, it already had a Muslim Student Association, but some teachers and students wanted to do more proactive work to try to stem Islamophobia. Students formed a chapter of the Arab Youth Organization, and now every Monday about 20 Arab and Muslim students meet to help each other with homework, college applications, and other academic issues. On Thursdays, they meet to build what Nour calls "social awareness." Students lead discussions about the complicated political issues in the Middle East, and they talk about issues they can address at their school that would help reduce anti-Muslim bias.

Last year, Nour invited a petite 16-year old student from Tunisia—I'll call her Mariam—to join the new Arabic youth organization. At first, Mariam tells me, she was shy and reluctant to speak up. But she slowly became more comfortable. "Nour is such an inspiring leader," Mariam says. "She is brave." Mariam is wearing a bright blue headscarf over a white sweatshirt, dark blue jeans, and purple high-tops when we meet in a cafe. "All Muslims deal with hearing hateful things," she says. An older man walking his dog recently called Mariam's mother "a piece of shit" as she passed him on the street.

Mariam's father is a limousine driver in San Francisco, and when he can, he gives her rides in the long, black Lincoln. But when she has to walk somewhere in town alone, Mariam walks near strangers pretending she knows them. She chooses to walk near women, whenever possible, following just slightly behind them. Most don't mind or don't notice her quiet presence, she explains.

During one recent meeting, Mariam was talking to the group about a moment in one of her classes, after the Paris attacks, that had helped her: "My teacher facilitated a discussion about it in our class," Mariam said. "It took away the fear. I was so moved by the respect and understanding our Latino, black, white, and Asian American students showed toward Muslims." But such open conversations aren't often the norm. At the meeting, the Arab Youth Organization talked about the ways they could help increase teacher interventions when students use Islamophobic language. Nour told of overhearing several students blame all Muslims for the attacks in a casual conversation with each other during class. She said she wanted teachers not to ignore such comments, and instead to stop the class briefly to explain why they are form of racial stereotyping; teachers could also relate the comments to other forms of abuse that students at their school can identify with, such as anti-black comments or language targeting undocumented Latino students. Another intervention that needs to happen, students suggested, was to have teachers include more Middle Eastern history in their coursework and add more books by Arabic and Muslim authors. "How can American students be prepared for the future if they don't understand what's going on the Middle East?" Nour said. At the end of December, Nour and others presented the students' suggestions to a panel of social studies teachers.

The Arab Youth Organization at this Bay Area school is part of a small but growing group of teachers, researchers, and students across the nation who are trying to find different ways to reduce Islamophobia in schools. Many teachers I interviewed said that so far, efforts to reduce bullying of students are usually after the fact: setting up reporting systems, collecting data, disciplining and suspending students. Most teachers agreed that such approaches are necessary but not enough, and that teachers and administrators need to approach the problem proactively to keep kids safe.

The Census Bureau estimates that today there are 1.8 million Arab Americans in the United States, up 51 percent since 2000. The current migration wave from the Middle East and North Africa is also expected to get bigger with the ongoing instability in those regions.

In a recent poll, though, 54 percent of Americans said they didn't want to accept refugees from places like Syria, worrying that the government doesn't have the ability to screen out potential terrorists. Yet the former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Doris Meissner, reminds people that such fears aren't based in evidence. "The vetting of Syrians is the most intensive of any group that comes to the United States," Meissner told NPR. "None of the people who have come through the American refugee program, Syrian or other, since 9/11—and that's close to 800,000 people—have been the source of terrorist activity in the United States."

California is among the few dozen states where Syrian refugees have been embraced by the governor. Many Bay Area public schools are a safe haven to hundreds of immigrants from all over the world, but that doesn't mean students aren't susceptible to internalizing anti-Muslim stereotypes they hear, says Nour. And even in the more progressive Bay Area schools, a 2012 survey of high school students by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center found that 45 percent of students have heard racist remarks about Arabs in their classrooms.

"When teachers hear racist or anti-Islamic comments, most freeze," Zakout said. "They don't know how to intervene. There need to be regular trainings on how to recognize racist language and practice constructive responses. Silence is not neutral."

In 2010, the Department of Education did a study looking at programs aimed at reducing conflict in young kids and found that prescribed "one size fits all" approaches didn't work. Boston University's professor of education Scott Seider argues that schools have to work hard to create their own, homegrown systems designed to serve the individual needs of its unique student body. At Nour's school, experienced coaches and students help teachers learn how to recognize racist, sexist, or homophobic language and respond appropriately.

Most recent anti-bullying research that has looked at the impact of student-run groups in countering harassment toward gay students has found that such clubs can act as a powerful proactive buffer against bullying. (LGBTQ students are still bullied at higher rates than any other subgroup, including Muslim students.) At Nour's school, there is a strong Gay Straight Student Alliance that holds ongoing meetings to facilitate conversations between kids and teachers about changes that could help LGBTQ students feel safe.

Teachers and administrators tell me that the success of any anti-bullying initiative depends on the degree of student involvement and engagement in crafting solutions, which is why educators at Nour's school support dozens of multicultural and political student clubs. Teachers here also work hard to add content in the standard curriculum that reflects the culture and heritage of their students, as 92 percent of the student body are students of color. This approach seems to be paying off. A district-wide 2013 student survey showed that a significantly higher percentage of 11th graders at the school, compared with their peers in other schools, reported that their school encouraged them to understand how others think and feel, and to identify and stop bullying. But this approach is an outlier. Dozens of teachers I've interviewed in schools across the country told me that neither the programs they took to get their credentials nor the districts where they worked provide these kinds of trainings or promote diversified curriculum.

This needs to change, argues Christine Sleeter, a professor of education at California State University-Monterey Bay who is known for her research on curriculum. Last year, for the first time in history, the number of students of color in our nation's schools surpassed the number of white kids, yet the curriculum the kids learn is still overwhelmingly focused on a Euro-American perspectives, said Sleeter.

In 2011, Sleeter reviewed dozens of studies and research reviews on the impact of ethnic-studies classes, finding that in all but one, students' attitudes toward people of other races improved—and so did their grades. A 2016 Stanford study of three high schools in San Francisco that implemented an ethnic-studies pilot program found that students in the course improved their grades, their attendance rates, and the number of course credits they earned. Sleeter found that the best results came from classrooms that allowed students of different racial backgrounds to interact and discuss widespread stereotypes, and from those whose teachers included coursework that reflected the realities of students' lives, including war, racism, and poverty.

Sleeter and others point out that when taught effectively, an ethnic-studies curriculum can help students understand forces that are working against them—including racial stereotypes. Effective ethnic-studies curricula also give students strong role models and tools to change their own situations.

ABOUT EIGHT YEARS AGO, the price of food and gas and heat in Syria began rising sharply, fueled in part by the war in Iraq. Nour's parents didn't have enough money to cover the higher costs, so in 2009 her father left Syria for the United States. A friend in California helped him get papers and settle in San Francisco, where he started working seven days a week in a local liquor store and sending as much money home as possible.

In 2011, as uprisings spread across the Middle East and into Syria, some of Nour's classmates started openly criticizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—an act that was strictly forbidden. One morning, Nour found the mandatory portrait of Assad in her classroom crumpled, its glass frame broken. Syria slipped into civil war, and ISIS gained traction in the northern part of the country. The extremists were now executing thousands of people from religious and ethnic minorities, including Muslims they don't consider true adherents of their hardline teachings. Nour and her family are Druze, an offshoot of Islam practiced by about 700,000 people in a country with a pre-war population of 24 million. Nour's father was finally able to get political asylum for his family, and in 2012 Nour, her mother, and her two siblings joined him in San Francisco.

Nour says some of her favorite moments in her ethnic-studies courses come when her teachers help her see the connections between what the Syrian refugees are experiencing today and other mass migrations in American history—from the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the waves of undocumented immigrant students who have come to California from Central America. "Learning about these similarities makes me feel less alone and more hopeful about the possibility of positive change in the future," Nour explained.

Sleeter and other experts like education psychologist Claude Steele argue that mainstream American curricula should include non-white history, art, and literature. The channeling of this kind of material to special anniversaries and designated days, months, or classes, Steele wrote in The Atlantic, "carries the disturbing message that the material is not of general value. [A]nd it excuses in whites and others a huge ignorance of their own society."

But still today, the reality is, Sleeter says, the designation provides practical ways to increase funding for ethnic-studies curriculum development and teacher training.

In 2014, the San Francisco Unified School District approved a resolution that extended ethnic-studies classes to all 19 high schools in the city. At least eight other districts in California have adopted or are debating similar options. Arizona and Texas are also looking at expanding their school curricula to include more ethic-studies courses, according to Sleeter.

But it's hard to imagine such work scaling up in significant ways nationwide without increased federal-, state-, and district-level support. In some states that are considering increasing ethnic-studies courses, educators and policymakers remain locked in a bitter debate about the merits of such curricula. In 2010, Arizona lawmakers passed a statewide ban on Mexican American ethnic studies arguing that such curricula promoted "resentment against whites" because it included a high number of black and Latino perspectives on systemic racism that didn't view American history in flattering ways. A federal appeals court ruled Arizona's ban was stifling intellectual freedom. The battle continues.

Meanwhile, most teacher training dollars are tied up in the redesign of new tests and the implementation of Common Core standards. Most changes, for now, will likely be driven by small groups of dedicated students and educators who will organize their own groups and work directly with their districts or nonprofit partners like the Arab Resources and Organizing Center, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and Teachers for Social Justice.

And there is the hurdle that including more content about the Middle East and Islam can itself get caught up in Islamophobia. In Augusta County, Virginia, the district shut down all schools after a teacher gave out an assignment on Islam that caused a revolt by some parents. As part of a class on world religions, the geography teacher at Riverheads High School in Staunton asked students to use calligraphy and copy an Islamic statement of faith: "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah." The homework assignment was meant to raise students' appreciation of the artistic complexity of Arabic calligraphy, school district officials explained. But when students took the assignment home, some parents staged a rally and flooded the district with complaints arguing the school was converting their children to Islam.

A WEEK AFTER the deadly attacks in San Bernardino, Nour and Salem are having a hard time concentrating on their college applications. "I'm worried about the refugees," Salem says. "Every time an attack happens, it will make it harder for people to escape war."

None of Nour's cousins, aunts, or friends have been able to get political asylum in the United States so far—many are now scattered in Egypt, Brazil, Lebanon, and Germany. Her cousin Hazem immigrated to Cuba. Salem and Nour's close friend recently spent his parents' life savings to pay for seats in a rubber dinghy that was crossing the Aegean Sea bound for Europe.

Nour tells me she hopes President Barack Obama will keep his promise to accept 10,000 more refugees in the next nine months. "I want more Syrian children to have access to good education like me and Salem. They can then contribute to peaceful solutions in the Middle East when they grow up. It is my conviction that I will go to Syria after college and do that."

For now, Nour's friends at the Arab Youth Organization are preparing to welcome more refugees at their school next year.

Originally posted by Mother Jones

Tuesday, January 26, Stephanie Malia Krauss, Youth Today

I never had a student change his behavior for the better because he was suspended. Most of the time students returned and reoffended. Time away from school seemed to exacerbate problems, not fix them.

As a public school leader, I was in charge of major disciplinary actions — suspensions and expulsions. My school was for older, disconnected youth, some with violent and criminal backgrounds. We had to suspend students for all types of reasons: theft, fighting, threatening, bringing a weapon to school.

Even in a school run by social workers, our commitment to helping students was handicapped by some pretty arbitrary discipline rules. Our school board set and approved disciplinary policies, which were developed in partnership with our school leadership team, under the advisement of our lawyer. We all understood there were precedents to follow.

When we started, our discipline committee pored over policies from every area school district. Our lawyers told us to stay consistent with others. It would protect our school. I got it: Can you imagine what a judge and jury would think if we were a zero-suspension school, and a student with a history of violent behavior injured or killed a student or staff member?

So we set policies that mirrored those who had gone before us. Depending on the infraction, students could be suspended for one to three days or 11 to 180 days. If suspended, a student was given a bus ticket and a performance improvement plan. Requirements for her return were put in place. I am glad to say, those requirements often included supports and therapeutic interventions. But while a student was gone, she was provided with very little beyond schoolwork.

Thinking back, I know we set students up to fail. We followed precedents and protocol. We understood suspensions did not work, but when someone did something really risky or scary, removal was more appealing than restoration.

As a system, we induced a cycle of problem behavior. Students would act out, get sent home, be suspended, then return to school some number of days later. Now behind in their work, and embarrassed (or proud) of their absence, they would be more easily agitated and more likely to act out again. Quite a few of our students would spend their time away engaging in the same kinds of behavior, which could include running the streets, staying up late, drinking or doing drugs. They would come back in rough shape — hungry, hungover and tired.

As a leader, I allowed our school to use time as proxy for progress when it came to all major disciplinary situations. Some random number of days, first decided by some school district somewhere, was supposed to resolve whatever caused the suspension in the first place.

Time is not a cure-all for a young person’s problem behavior. Suspensions are easy to administer, monitor and track. Time-based policies are clean and can be uniform across settings and systems. A 10-day suspension looks the same and happens for the same reasons at my school and yours. We know when three or five or 10 days is up. We know when we should expect an instant change in behavior.

The problem is, it does not work. In the case of our school-based discipline, time was a poor proxy for progress, because students simply did not progress toward anything beneficial during their time away. And typically, the more time away the worse the results.

Time plays proxy for progress in many ways across youth systems. Juvenile judges issue timebased sentences: a certain number of days in a detention center or hours of community service. Educators follow seat-time credentialing requirements: a certain number of minutes of instruction to earn a unit of credit. Prevention programs set limits on the number of days or weeks a young person can be in a substance abuse treatment facility. Shelters and transitional living programs, often tied to public dollars, max out after a few weeks or months.

We all need to thoughtfully examine the efficacy of the time-based measures our youth systems rely on. Ask yourself, when and how does this measure lead a young person to move ahead, improve, grow and develop? Is there another way? A better way?

Knowing what I know now, I would have done more, much more, to find alternatives to suspension. I would have demanded our discipline practices kept all youth — including those who got in trouble — in the center.

It is time to set new precedents, to level the scales and bring progress-based measures up to the same level as our time-based ones. Each of us must come up with reasonable and scalable alternatives. If not, we will continue to have many young people biding their time — in school, out of school, in programs, out of programs — waiting to progress, waiting to finish. But in the wait, we will lose them.

Originally posted by Youth Today

Tuesday, January 25, Casey Quinlan, Think Progress

Success Academy Charter Schools, a well-known charter school network in New York City, is being accused of discriminating against students with disabilities, according to a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

The group of parents who filed the complaint say that the school’s strict rules pushed some of them to withdraw their children, and cite 13 students with disabilities whom they claim were over-disciplined there. A few other organizations — including MFY Legal Services, the Partnership for Children’s Rights, the Legal Aid Society, and the New York Legal Assistance Group — also joined the parents’ complaint.

Success Academy Charter Schools, which operates 34 schools in New York City, has been around for a decade. But for years, the charter schools network has been dogged with accusations that its success is owed in part to its ability to force out students who struggle to work in a controlled, zero-tolerance environment.

According to a recent New York Times investigation, one mother said her daughter’s name was on a list of 16 names shared by administrators with the heading “Got to Go,” and nine of those children were later withdrawn from the school after a slew of suspensions and meetings with school officials. The story also reports that former staff say they did not automatically send annual re-enrollment forms to certain students because the school did not want them back.

In response to the Times, a spokesperson for the school said that Success Academy staff were reprimanded for the list and added that “some on the list required special education settings that Success could not offer them.”

Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy charter schools, says the network’s student discipline policies are meant to keep students safe and that parents are simply making excuses for their children’s bad behavior. This is typically Moskowitz’s response against these types of allegations. After PBS NewsHour released a segment on student discipline that focused on suspension of kindergarteners at the charter school network, Moskowitz made the discipline records of the only named student in the PBS piece available to the public.

PBS NewsHour reporter John Merrow told Slate that at one of the Success Academy schools, as many as 44 kindergarteners and first-graders out of 203 received out-of-school suspensions in one year. Merrow has also reported that Success Academy Charter schools have suspension rates that are almost three times higher than in traditional public K-12 schools in the city.

According to the charter school’s website, 76 percent of students are from low-income households, 93 percent are students of color, 12 percent have special needs, and 8.5 percent are English language learners. Extensive research shows that the student populations Success Academy serves are disproportionately likely to be suspended.

For instance, black students are 1.78 times more likely and Latino students are 2.23 times more likely to face suspension, according to a report by the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative. Students with disabilities are also punished more, especially if they’re black. A student’s race can affect how teachers judge their misbehavior, according to a recent Stanford University study.

The Huffington Post reports that the Success Academy has a pretty long list of student infractions — there are 65 infractions across a few levels of violations, including minor violations such as slouching or forgetting to bring a pencil. The infractions escalate by level all the way up to level 4, which includes repeated violation of minor infractions as well as noncompliance with the dress code and bullying. Students can be immediately expelled from school if they have level 3 or 4 infractions.

Originally posted by Think Progress

Tuesday, January 25, The Brooklyn Reader

Brooklyn resident Samara Gaev just had one of her most intense, most powerful and most rewarding years ever.

As the founder of Truthworker Theatre Company, a Brooklyn-based social justice hop-hop theatre company for high school and college-age youth, Gaev spent much of 2015 working with young people to illuminate the problem of the school-to-prison pipeline that has affected so many in New York City and around the country.

Together, Gaev and the young students wrote, produced and performed two plays– Bar Code: A Performative Analysis of the School to Prison Pipeline, and In|Prism: Boxed In & Blacked Out in America. With 28 performance engagements throughout the country, reaching over 2,525 people, from students to inmates to professors to cops, Gaeve says they have so much to be grateful for and so much to strive towards in 2016.

“2015 was a year of great collaboration, inspiration and action for Truthworker Theatre Company,” said Gaev. “This year, we are diving into the creation of our third production, focused on re-entry after incarceration, which will complete a three part trilogy examining the prison industrial complex.”

Check out some of the photos Gaev has shared with The Brooklyn Reader, taken along their journey. If you are inspired to be a part of the movement of change for young people who are fighting to break the chains of incarceration and forge a new path forward, you can help by spreading the word and/or donating!

“Your support will help us to uphold our commitment to provide professional stipends for all of the young artists and maintain year-round programming inclusive of rigorous training, guest artists, food and transportation for the youth, and the development and production of pivotal new works,” said Gaev. “If you feel moved to make a contribution to sustain our 2016 work and beyond, we would be so thankful!”

BRIC TV produced a beautiful mini doc on Truthworker as a part of their Bklyn Made series. Click here to listen/watch/read about Truthworker in the press. Also, you may go here to make a donation.

Originally posted by The Brooklyn Reader

Monday, January 25, Collier Meyerson, Fusion

“Get y’all’s cameras out,” Niya Kenny recalled saying to her classmates at Spring Valley High School during a speech on Saturday. The footage, which would go viral, shows a black teenage girl being yanked out of her desk by a public school resource officer and thrown to the ground.

The video sparked a national debate about state violence against students of color. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders used the incident, popularly referred to on social media by hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValley, as an example of the school-to-prison pipeline, and the school-to-prison pipeline, a term that refers to America’s over-policed schoolchildren, who are disproportionately students of color.

Kenny, a senior at the time, told the room she arrested and held for eight hours by police for what she describes as defending her classmate. “I felt like I had to stand up for my sister right then and there,” she said.


Kenny was addressing a United Nations Working Group on People of African Descent panel in Mississippi. She has been an outspoken advocate for school policy reform since the incident took place in October. The working group she addressed was established in 2001 at the world conference on racism in Durban by the Commission on Human Rights to study and eliminate racial discrimination.

“It could have been anybody right there,” Kenny said. “It could have been my sister, my cousin. It could have been me.”

The school resource officer, Ben Fields, was fired over the incident. Before that Fields was the defendant named in a 2013 lawsuit claiming he was “unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity,” according to NBC News. According to a press release about the event, Kenny still faces charges.

In the 2011-2012 school year, black girls were suspended six times as often as white girls, according to a report published by the African American Policy forum. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office have opened an investigation into the matter.

Originally posted by Fusion

Sunday, January 24, Janis Mara, Marin Independent Journal

As schools continued to turn more toward alternatives to suspension in response to infractions, the suspension rate fell in Marin and California last year compared with the year before.

Statewide, the suspension rate dropped to 3.8 percent in the 2014-15 school year, compared with 4.4 percent the year before, according to figures released by the state Department of Education last week. The state reported that 243,603 students were suspended, 35,780 fewer suspensions than in the previous school year.

Marin County showed a 2.2 percent suspension rate in the 2014-15 school year, compared with a 2.7 suspension rate in the 2013-14 school year.

State figures show that 755 Marin students were suspended in 2014-15, out of a total enrollment of 34,083. In comparison, 908 of an enrollment of 33,811 students were suspended in 2013-14, the state reported.

Educators have been using different approaches to discipline since the 2011-12 school year, and suspensions have dropped in response, said Lynn Erikson, coordinator of student services for the Novato Unified School District.

“The declines (in Novato) are based on the implementation of restorative justice in 2011-12,” Erikson said. Suspensions declined the year the restorative justice program began, she said.

“In our schools we have peer court, which began in 2011-12. It’s a site-based restorative model,” she said. “It’s an onsite group of students that meets, hears the case, and instead of being suspended, the student might be given community service, maybe be referred to counseling or might be asked to write a letter to the person they harmed, based on the incident.”

Each middle and high school in the district has a peer court, Erikson said. The district is expanding the concept to the elementary schools this year, she said.

The Novato district had a 3.2 percent suspension rate in 2013-14, compared with a 2.7 percent suspension rate in 2014-15. In the latter school year, 224 students were suspended out of an enrollment of 8,268 students.

Expulsions remained the same statewide, with a 0.1 percent expulsion rate for California in the last two school years.

The number of expulsions in Marin is so small as to be negligible. Eight students out of the entire population were expelled in 2013-14, and the same number was expelled the following year. Because this is such a low number, it equates to 0 percent expulsions.

The Marin school districts whose suspension rates were above zero in 2014-15 were:

Dixie Elementary: 2.6

Kentfield Elementary: 0.3

Larkspur-Corte Madera: 0.2

Marin County Office of Education: 10.6

Mill Valley Elementary: 1.3

Novato Unified: 2.7

Reed Union Elementary: 0.4

Ross Elementary: 1.1

Ross Valley Elementary: 2.1

San Rafael City Elementary: 2.1

San Rafael City High: 3.7

Sausalito Marin City: 14.2

Shoreline Unified: 1.8

Tamalpais Union High: 1.3

Originally posted by Marin Independent Journal

Saturday, January 23, Jennifer McClellan, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Among the many issues to be considered during this year’s General Assembly session, few are as important as those designed to improve how we respond to young people who are in danger of becoming part of the criminal justice system.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen a disturbing rise in the over-criminalization of childhood behaviors that were once handled almost exclusively through the school disciplinary process. Behaviors that once would have led to in-school detention are now leading to incarceration in alarming numbers.

In April 2015, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) released a report analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights that examined the number of students referred to law enforcement from schools. Virginia led the nation, with a referral rate of 15.8 students per 1,000, compared to the national average of six students per 1,000.

More than 38 percent of referrals to law enforcement were for African-American students, who make up only 24 percent of the student population. Additionally, 30 percent of the referred students had a disability, a group that makes up 12 percent of the overall student population.

Children were often referred to law enforcement as a result of behaviors that did not constitute a crime, or would not be a crime for an adult. CPI’s review of individual cases and local Virginia police records showed that thousands of students were sent into the criminal justice system by school police on charges of disorderly conduct, assault and resisting arrest. These referrals resulted from behavior like kicking trash cans, yelling, using foul language, getting into schoolyard fights and attempting to break free from police officers who grabbed them.

One example that received widespread attention last year was Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an autistic sixth grader in Lynchburg who left class without permission. The 11-year-old was handcuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct and felony assault after a struggle with a school resource officer.

Referrals like these often start a student down the path of the school-to-prison pipeline and a lifetime of involvement in the criminal justice system.

To address this issue, Gov. Terry McAuliffe last fall announced his Classrooms not Courtrooms initiative, a multi-agency, administration-wide push to reduce student referrals to law enforcement, reduce suspensions and expulsions, address the disparate impact these practices have on African Americans and students with disabilities, and reduce the emphasis on subjective offenses like disorderly conduct.

Through this initiative, multiple state agencies will implement a variety of strategies, including but not limited to:

promoting constructive partnerships between schools and law enforcement through the development and implementation of a new standardized joint training program for school resource officers and school administrators;

updating the framework for developing local agreements about the role and function of school resource officers;

updating the School Resource Officer Program Guide to incorporate effective strategies; and

tracking specific data related to subjective misdemeanor offenses such as disorderly conduct, and focusing on finding effective alternatives to criminal justice interventions.

Several bills have also been introduced to address this issue.
The use of court and detention for truancy and runaway cases in particular is considered a contributing factor for the school-to-prison pipeline.

When faced with a truant or runaway — children often deemed a “child in need of services” — a judge typically enters a court order forcing that child to go to school or return home. If the child subsequently runs away or fails to go to school, the judge can order the child to be detained in a local juvenile detention center. As a result, kids who often are abused, neglected, or face other challenges requiring services, are housed with children who have committed crimes, including violent offenses.

This creates a particularly dangerous situation for the child or opens the door for that child to be recruited into or taught serious criminal behavior. I have introduced HB 488 to end the practice of detaining a child deemed by a court as a “child in need of services” for merely violating a court order.

I have also introduced HB 486 to make it permissible, rather than mandatory, for commonwealth attorneys to participate in prosecuting cases against a child under the compulsory school attendance laws. Currently, despite a mandate that commonwealth attorneys participate in these cases, there is no uniformity in the commonwealth related to this practice.

In some localities, truancy cases are handled by intake officers, recognizing that the student of interest is not a criminal, but a child in need of services to address underlying issues, such as family stability, abuse, neglect, mental health, or school achievement. Inserting the commonwealth attorney into all cases without regard to the underlying facts adds a level of prosecution that in many cases is not only unhelpful, but starts that child down a path towards detention.

These are just a few of the efforts underway this session to break the school-to-prison pipeline. Over the next few weeks, I look forward to providing additional insight on these and other issues to come before the General Assembly.

Originally posted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Friday, January 22, Fathma Rahman, The Daily Northwestern

Chicago-based organizer and educator Mariame Kaba said Thursday one of the driving forces behind the disproportionate incarceration of black people in the U.S. is an unfair education system. Kaba was the first speaker of a quarter-long series hosted by Unshackle NU, a private prison divestment campaign launched Tuesday.

Kaba is the founder of Project Nia, an organization she said implements a restorative, community-based justice model that operates through conversation and mediation, rather than punishment, for students. She involved the audience of about 80 in a conversation focusing on the “school-to-prison pipeline” and its relationship to private prisons.

Unshackle NU was founded to pressure the University to divest from international security company G4S, Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, Inc., in addition to a longer list of companies the campaign says the University invests in that relate to the prison industrial complex.

William McLean, NU’s chief investment officer, told The Daily in an email Thursday that NU has less than $1 million invested in G4S and no investments in the other companies named. He declined to comment on Unshackle NU’s proposals because he has not yet been in communication with the group. However, he said he would be interested in meeting with them.

“The Investment Office has been very transparent with all three divestment movements and will continue to do so to the extent possible,” he said.

SESP sophomore Michelle Sanders, a member of the campaign, said Unshackle NU’s goal goes beyond simply focusing on investments in private prisons and extends to making NU’s investments more transparent. She said the group’s hope is that if they can get a divestment resolution passed, they can join NU Divest and Fossil Free NU in pushing the University to install a socially responsible investment committee, which she said begins with the current education series.

“The primary focus of this campaign is education,” Sanders said. “All of our speakers are well-versed in the different pillars of the prison industrial complex, so hopefully the people who were as engaged as they were at this event will want to come back.”

Kaba, who has taught courses at Northwestern and Northeastern Illinois University, founded Project Nia in order to combat the large numbers of students that were removed from the education system, she said, putting them at greater risk for outcomes such as incarceration.

Kaba shifted her focus to youth activism after seeing a school near her Rogers Park home send a large number of young people to prisons and handing out suspensions almost exclusively to black students, she said.

“I wanted to create a space within the school called the peace room that would allow for students to stay in the school to get with volunteers who had been trained to practice and work with them as an alternative to suspensions and expulsions,” Kaba said.

School plays a major role in shaping an individual into educated, college-ready students, Kaba said, but for people of color, schools play a very different role.

“Schools themselves are incarceral in their nature, and have always pushed out black kids — and that has existed for a very long time,” Kaba said. “They are sources of social reproduction that reinforces the norms of racist, classist, sexist, transphobic society and sort people into various slots.”

Weinberg junior Edward Duron, who attended the event, said Kaba’s story reminded him of his own high school experience, which he said included zero-tolerance policies for fighting and other offenses, drug-sniffing dogs and a school police officer.

“If it happens at my school, I can imagine it happens so much more in other places,” Duron said.

Originally posted by The Daily Northwestern

Friday, January 22, Alan Singer, The Huffington Post

Success Academy is New York City's largest charter school network. About 11,000 children attend its thirty-six schools. The network receives federal and state funding and free space from New York City for all of its schools. But apparently it also discriminates against students with disabilities, at least according to a legal complaint filed by parents and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.

The network is accused of repeatedly suspending young children who have been difficult to push their families to transfer them out of the charter schools. In October the New York Times reported that at least one of the network's charter schools maintained a "got to go" list that singled out students who were considered troublesome. The suspicion is that the "Suspension" network's harsh disciplinary practices are designed to boost their schools performance rate on standardized tests.

The State University of New York, which licenses charter school in the state, is currently investigating Success Academy's for violations and a civil rights complaint is now pending with the U.S. Department of Education. The civil rights complaint was filed by parents with support from New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, chair of the Council's Education Committee. It alleges that Success Academy failed to comply with the disciplinary due process rights of students with disabilities.

In May 2014, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued a letter to charter school operators reminding them that the "Federal civil rights laws, regulations, and guidance that apply to charter schools are the same as those that apply to other public schools." According to the memo, "These laws extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology."

Complaints have not stopped Success Academy from lobbying for additional public funding in partnership with a group called Families for Excellent Schools. On January 20 the groups bussed 500 New York City school children to Albany for a rally at the State Capitol building. A spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo says the governor's proposed budget increases state funding to charter schools and allows more local funding. The Alliance for Quality Education has launched an online petition campaign to block the additional state funds.

Parents in two Brooklyn communities are at the forefront of the battle to stop Success Academy. In Fort Greene, an advisory panel representing public-school parents demanded that the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the State Board of Regents investigate the company's discipline policies and suspend the network's authorization to open new schools. The Success Academy charter network denies students were severely punished for minor infractions in an effort to drive them out of their schools and has apologized for the "got to go" list. The principal responsible for the "got to go" list is on an indefinite personal leave and the school has its fourth leader since it opened in 2013. However network CEO Eva Moskowitz refused to meet with the Fort Greene panel.

Meanwhile in Bedford-Stuyvesant, parent groups are protesting a recent decision by the DOE to permit Success to open a new charter school in the community. The charter would be located inside a public school that has had declining enrollment. The school's principal and dozens of teachers, parents, and students from P.S. 297 protested at a public hearing against the move. They charged the charter would take away space used to provide occupational, speech and physical therapy to special needs students, students who the Suspension Academy notoriously does not serve. At the meeting the DOE's deputy chancellor of operations acknowledged that in the 2018-2019 school year, P.S. 297 would lose three full-size classrooms and one smaller area. In addition, the principal argued that any under-utilized space should be used to allow the school to add additional grades. The school currently has grades pre-k through 5th.

Most of P.S. 297's students are Black and Latino and come from two nearby public housing projects, but the community is in the process of gentrification. A different charter school was previously located in the P.S. 297 building, but it was closed by the DOE because of poor student test scores and high teacher turnover. One suspicion is that a new charter school would primarily serve new middle-class families moving into the area. Fred Baptiste, a parent panel's Brooklyn representative, said "With this population, with this school, with the changes they're making, with the fragileness of the school community, I really have to question whether this fits in Bed-Stuy."

According to a 2014 report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, New York City schools are among the most racially, economically, and ethnically segregated in the United States. "In 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation."

New York City needs an overall plan to address school segregation and educational inequality before it authorizes any new charter schools, especially any new "Suspension" Academy schools. To support my nomination to the New York State Board of Regents contact Steven McCutcheon, the State Assembly Program and Counsel Staff at mccutcheons@assembly.state.ny.us.

Originally posted by The Huffington Post

Thursday, January 21, Rissa Shaw, KHOU

A Killeen mother is defending her son who was suspended after helping a fellow student having an asthma attack.

Anthony Ruelas, 15, said his eighth grade classmate was wheezing and gagging for three minutes Tuesday morning while no one did anything. But when Ruelas did do something, he apparently broke the rules.

"He may not follow instructions all the time, but he does have a great heart," said Mandy Cortes, Ruelas' mother.

Ruelas goes to Gateway Middle School, an alternative school in the Killeen Independent School District. Ruelas has been suspended before, but Tuesday was different.

"I wasn't trying to hear it," said Cortez. When she picked her son up from school for the suspension she told him,"No, they already told me what happened you walked out of class, and he was like 'ok forget it', but I can tell, ya know you know your kids, I could tell he was upset."

The reason Ruelas walked out of class? He was carrying a friend to the nurse's office.

"I was like what? I'm suspended for this? Like, I was trying to help her," said Ruelas.

According to Ruelas, the teacher was waiting on an email from the nurse and told the class to remain calm and stay in their seats. Fearing for the girl's health, Ruelas didn't listen and after several minutes of inaction, went against the teacher's wishes to help his friend.

Ruelas' referral form from his teacher reads in her handwriting:

"During 5th period another student complained that she couldn't breathe and was having an asthma attack. As I waited for a response from the nurse the student fell out of her chair to the floor. Anthony proceeded to go over and pick her up, saying 'f—k that we ain't got time to wait for no email from the nurse.' He walks out of class and carries the other student to the nurse."
"I broke rules but, she need help, like she needed help," said Ruelas.

"I don't, ya know think, he should have used that language, but as far as getting suspended for walking out of class, he could have saved her life," said Cortes.

Killeen ISD released this statement Wednesday in response to the incident:

"The District is unable to provide details related to the matter as it pertains to information involving student discipline and/or health records. In an effort to protect students' rights to confidentiality granted under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the details of the investigation and/or disciplinary actions may not be provided by the district at this time. The Killeen ISD maintains the safety of our students, staff and campuses as a priority and applauds the efforts of students who act in good faith to assist others in times of need."
-John Craft, Superintendent, Killeen Independent School District

However, Cortes said instead of "applause" her son got punished for doing the right thing.

"Especially with it being an alternative school I feel like the kids hear enough of 'they're bad' or their behavior, or you know, and for them to not be rewarded for really something that is brave, ya know, he is a hero to me," said Cortes.

Ruelas said he wasn't concerned about the two-day suspension, only the girl's health, and even with the outcome would help her again if given the chance.

"Most definitely," said Ruelas.

Adding insult to injury, Cortes said the school called her Wednesday morning wanting to know why her son was absent. She had to remind them they suspended him.

As for the classmate Ruelas helped, he said he got a text from her Wednesday evening thanking him and letting him know she was 'ok.'

Ruelas can return to school Thursday, but Cortes is now considering home-schooling him.

Originally posted by KHOU

Thursday, January 21, Colleen Wright, Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas County school officials have been under pressure to ease up when it comes to discipline, especially after a Times investigation found that black students can be suspended for almost anything.

Area superintendents met at Monday's school board workshop to propose a few changes in practice and in code.

Among the changes in practice, which are currently being piloted by schools in north Pinellas County:

No student should be given an in-school or out-of-school suspension for more than three days without permission from area superintendent per each incident.
A student shall be given no more than 10 days of cumulative in-school or out-of-school suspension per semester without permission from the area superintendent.
There may also be no out-of-school suspensions given for these six offenses, which the area offices are monitoring: excessive tardies, missed detentions or missed Saturday school, cell phones and electronic devices, leaving school grounds without permission, skipping class or school or being in an unauthorized location. Officials said the area offices will monitor data entries of these offenses.

Area superintendent Ward Kennedy, who supervises schools in Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin and East Lake, said there has been an 18 percent reduction of referrals overall this school year, and 19 percent of that reduction was seen among black students. There was also a 13.2 percent decline in out-of-school suspensions for black students.

Kennedy also shared that arrests are down 44.8 percent from 2012 to the end of the 2014-15 school year. With a push toward civil citations, a more lenient discipline measure, Kennedy reported that 86 percent of first time offenders received civil citations, and 88 percent of black students received a civil citation for their first offense.

Kennedy vowed to ensure that oversight is consistent to make sure all of the schools are following the same standards. There is a larger emphasis on monitoring discipline data, he said.

Area superintendents also sought approval from the school board to change a code regarding make-up work for all absences: excused, unexcused or suspension. The revised code allows for students to make up work for full credit and without a grade penalty, so that students who are suspended and make up their work will not have their grades affected.

The school board seemed favorable to the changes, and will be considered for approval at a later date.

Originally posted by the Tampa Bay Times

Thursday, January 21, Catherine Komp

Audio link here

One of the first stops for the current class of Richmond police recruits was at the non-profit organization Art 180. The collaboration is part a growing movement to change the juvenile justice system. In the first of a two-part series, Catherine Komp reports for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: Next week, listen for part two of this story when we hear from Police Chief Alfred Durham about this unique collaboration and learn about new programs to address the "school to prison pipeline." Follow the work of Art 180 and Legal Aid Justice Center, including LAJC's recommendations for school policing reform. Read the Center for Public Integrity's investigation into Virginia's record of referring youth to law enforcement.

Transcript:

Trey Hartt: Hi, how you doing? Trey Hartt...

Art 180’s Trey Hartt and Taekia Glass welcome 21 police recruits who’ve just arrived for a three hour training.

Taekia Glass: Good morning everybody, I’m the program director here at Art 180 and you’re probably wondering why you’re here this morning...

The recruits are here to learn about the impact of the juvenile justice system on individuals, families and the larger community. They begin by exploring an exhibit made by teens incarcerated at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center. For eight weeks, the youth got to leave the facility and work with artists, educators and legal advocates at Art 180’s youth center.

Hartt: Right now we want to spend the next hour, just looking at the gallery…

A group of recruits gathers in the center of the room, where there’s a replica of a cell. It’s six feet wide, eight feet long and eight feet tall. They look at the floor’s planks, where youth wood-burned messages to people on the outside. “Step into my shoes,” they wrote, “feel my pain and struggle.” “Imagine you can see barbed wire from your window, imagine you can hear kids crying, screaming.” “Know that I wish I was home, know that I’m scared.”

Dominique Compton: For me, that was the one that got to me the most.
Oscar Reyes: Every time I would read a different statement, I felt like I would hear an individual just crying out.

Twenty-three year olds Dominique Compton and Oscar Reyes are two of the new recruits.

Compton: Just knowing, being in health care and having my undergraduate degree, I understand that human beings can not function in such a small place, you would run the sanest person insane.

Reyes: Just looking inside of the cell, I kind of imagined myself there and I felt a little negative energy, but at end of day I realized, I got to go home and they do get that option, they have to stay there for whatever amount of time they’re there for.

This exhibit and the recruit training emerged from the wide-ranging project Performing Statistics, which uses art and advocacy to raise awareness about mass incarceration and the “school to prison pipeline.”

Mark Strandquist: The core ethos of the project is that the individuals most affected by the system are the experts that we believe society needs to listen to, in this case incarcerated youth themselves.

Mark Strandquist launched Performing Statistics in June 2015 along with partners Art 180 and Legal Aid Justice Center.

Strandquist: If Virginia is referring more youth to law enforcement than any state in the country, we believe that the incarcerated youth that we worked with have a lot to teach those polices officers.

One way the youth are helping to teach officers is through a series of training manuals.

Strandquist: So the whole concept of the training stem from a publication put out by the Richmond Police Department called “If You’re Stopped by the Police.” We felt like the youth’s voice was not present in that publication so we wanted to create our own manual where teens were helping to train police on their terms and offering their perspectives and desires.

Glass: If you stop a teen, take a breath and...

Art 180’s Taekia Glass reads some of their suggestions:

Glass: … remember what it’s like to be a teenager, just talk to us, get to know us. Think before you react. Make us laugh sometimes. Ask us what we’re going through. Listen.

Another manual looks at what officers should do before working with youth. Performing Statistics partner Jeree Thomas from Legal Aid Justice Center shares some of those ideas.

Jeree Thomas: Walk around without your uniform. Move your family into the projects for two months without a gun. Grow up with gunshots on your block. Pass a test on how to work with kids. Try surviving on food stamps. Grow up watching your family struggle to survive. Have teens train you.

Compton: Those manuals, it really gave me a great perspective on how we’re viewed, and just simple things that we want. We can’t ask the community to look at us and trust us without them looking at us and saying we have a bit of demands as well.

Reyes: It opened up my eyes to know where I have to focus to make sure they feel better about approaching a police officer and, I’ll give them a positive impact because once you make a positive impact with one teen, I’m pretty sure they’ll probably go share that with their friends and be like, that guy’s not bad, I had a great experience with him. You’ll change one person at a time. I can’t change the world but I can definitely try to change one person at a time and it goes a long way.

During the training, recruits heard from a mother about the impact of youth incarceration on families; they learned about trends with the “school to prison pipeline” including that Virginia leads the country in youth referrals to law enforcement and that Richmond has some of the highest numbers of school suspensions. They discussed youth poverty and trauma, and how officers can serve as guardians and mentors.

Jason Smith: The biggest thing I learned is that my role as a police officer can extend beyond locking somebody up.

Recruit Jason Smith’s first career was as a child and family case manager. After nearly 10 years in that field, he wanted a new challenge while also continuing to serve the community.

Smith: We have to hold people accountable for what they do, but if we can get in before it gets to that point and if we can provide opportunities within the community whether it’s teaching people vocational skills, helping them with education or just giving them the opportunity to advance from where they are in their current standing, I think it is important. As law enforcement officers, we have the opportunity, we have the resources, we may not have the money at times, but I think we can do a lot more with our time.

Smith along with fellow recruits Compton and Reyes say the training left a lasting impression, giving them with a better understanding of how to build bridges with the community. Organizers like Mark Strandquist hope this training model expands and say it could be replicated in other cities.

Strandquist: Our dream is that not only could what we did be a training module or experience for police officers across Richmond but also across the state, but also this is a concept that could happen anywhere. It could also be focused in different ways: how would LGBTQ youth train police? How would youth of different faiths train police? So we’re really excited about this model of connecting the youth most affected by a given issue to the people who can directly impact their lives.

Next week, listen for part two of this story. We’ll hear from Chief Alfred Durham about this unique collaboration and how programs will expand following Art 180’s Robins Foundation grant. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.

Originally posted by Community Idea Stations

Tuesday, January 19, Patrick Wall, Chalkbeat

Shaka’la Maxwell, a Bronx high school student who helped survey her peers about school discipline, recently asked a classmate why she had been suspended.

The girl explained that she had fought with another student who questioned her intelligence. But she also made clear that her problems went deeper than a schoolyard taunt.

“Basically,” Shaka’la explained, “she struggled in class a lot.”

That student was not alone: In surveying nearly 400 students, parents, and teachers at over 50 Bronx schools, Shaka’la and her research team found that students who struggle academically or socially at school are also more likely to get into trouble. Those same students are also the least likely to turn to school staffers for help, according to a new report by the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, the South Bronx advocacy group that conducted the surveys.

The report comes as the citywide suspension rate continues its steady descent, and the education department is encouraging schools to adopt less punitive discipline approaches. It also follows significant changes to the city’s school discipline policies last year — including restrictions on the use of suspensions — and City Hall’s formation of a task force to review school discipline practices.

But, the report suggests, those efforts will fall short if they fail to address the underlying reasons for student misbehavior, which often involve a mix of academic challenges, problems at home, and friction with peers.

“While there is important and critical work being done to change policing practices and discipline policy,” the report says, “our research suggests that policymakers and educators must also address these underlying factors in order to transform school climate and culture in New York City.”

The group, which has pushed for improvements to South Bronx schools for two decades, decided to survey Bronxites about their schools in order to expand the school-safety debate beyond suspensions and metal detectors. While their unscientific results could never match those of the city’s massive school survey — which involves nearly 1 million participants — the idea was to add more school-level voices to the debate.

Shaka’la, who is a junior at the Bronx High School of Medical Science, teamed up with fellow students and parents to conduct the surveys in school lunchrooms, parks, McDonald’s restaurants, and churches. (Shaka’la said she used candy bars to coax some reticent interviewees.) Overall, they found that more than half of students said they enjoyed school both academically and socially.

But one in five students said they did not enjoy school, and those were the ones most likely to report having been disciplined in school and having struggled on state tests. Those same students were also twice as likely to say that they would not seek help from a teacher or other school staffer, according to the report.

Many of those students end up abandoning school, according to the report, which is based partly on interviews with students who dropped out of high school. The report says those dropouts were actually “pushed out,” explaining that many were “disengaged, distracted, disciplined, and dismissed long before they stopped attending.”

That was the case for Schurch Burgos, a 21-year-old Bronx resident who said she dropped out of long-struggling DeWitt Clinton High School when she was 15. She said that no one tried to pull her up as she fell behind in her classes, until she finally decided that it was pointless to keep showing up.

“I didn’t have help from teachers, from nobody,” said Schurch, who is now studying to earn a high school equivalency diploma. “I felt lost.”

If someone had intervened, she added, she believes that “would have stopped me from leaving, and I think I would have graduated.”

These issues are especially acute in the Bronx, which continues to have the lowest graduation rate and highest dropout rate of any borough. The Bronx has also historically seen the most school arrests and suspensions, though those numbers have declined sharply since 2012 along with the rest of the city’s.

The report makes several recommendations. It calls for more social workers to help coordinate schools’ “restorative justice” efforts, a problem-solving approach meant to replace suspensions. It also advocates substituting projects for some standardized exams, which it says will make students more excited about school and help those who perform poorly on tests.

An education department spokeswoman said the report is misleading because it relies on a limited sample of people. She said the city has hired 250 new guidance counselors and offered conflict de-escalation training to some schools, and she noted that suspensions fell by 17 percent last year.

In addition to the discipline-policy changes, the city has also invested heavily in mental-health counseling and other social services at some 130 “community schools” — efforts to confront the root causes of misbehavior and poor academics highlighted by the report.

“It’s an exciting moment,” said Emma Hulse, a Parent Action Committee organizer, “but there is a real need to continue the work and move forward.”

Originally posted by Chalkbeat

Tuesday, January 19, Mary Niederberger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When recent high school graduates Marna Owens and Amma Ababio produced a radio documentary last summer about inequitable discipline practices involving African-American girls, they hoped to provide a voice to those facing injustices.

This week, they found out that voice will be heard at radio stations across the nation.

Their 4-minute, 21-second documentary, “#BlackGirlsMatter: The Criminalization of Black Girls,” will be broadcast on 47 public radio stations across the country.

“I think it’s amazing that it got a chance to be picked up. We want a chance for these girls to have their stories told, to have their voices out there as well,” said Ms. Ababio, 18, a 2015 Pittsburgh Allderdice graduate who now is a freshman at Harvard. Ms. Owens, who graduated in 2015 from Pittsburgh CAPA, now attends Penn State Behrend.

“You hear a lot of about black boys who are being incarcerated at high rates, but not the girls,” Ms. Ababio said.

The documentary was produced as part of a weeklong intensive radio experience that Ms. Owens and Ms. Ababio participated in last summer at the studios of SLB Radio Productions Inc. The experience is open to participants in the Heinz Endowments Summer Youth Philanthropy Internship Program.

It marks the first time in the seven-year history of the program that student work has been picked up by radio stations, said Larry Berger, executive director of SLB Productions.

SLB Productions has posted audio files of the eight documentaries that students produced last summer on its Neighborhoodvoices.org web page. It also uploaded some of the students’ work to the Public Radio Exchange, a public radio clearinghouse, Mr. Berger said.

SLB officials recently were notified that Ms. Owens’ and Ms. Ababio’s documentary would be picked up by “51%,” a 30-minute women’s issues program that airs on Northeast Public Radio, a network of 28 stations in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

It will air Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. and on Jan. 27 at 3 p.m.

It will also be picked up by “PRX Remix,” which has 19 affiliates in 15 states, ranging from New York to California.

The documentary describes how blacks make up 14 percent of the U.S. population but account for 33 percent of the girls who are arrested and sentenced.

It said the school-to-prison pipeline starts with disparate school discipline for black girls and cites a U.S. Department of Education statistic that black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls.

The documentary quotes experts who say the actions of black girls are often interpreted differently by teachers and school officials than those of white girls, leading to the unequal discipline.

But it also urges school officials to treat the traumas that cause black girls to act out in school rather than punishing them.

“Some of this is because these girls hurt,” Ms. Owens said. “If we can fix the hurt, we can fix the problem.”

Originally posted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday, January 19, Karen Savage, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

He knew instantly he’d made a mistake. At the last minute, he tried to protect the woman, but that only angered her assailant, who hit her harder, knocking her to the ground.

That assailant was someone Daryl Mensah-Bonsu, then 15, had considered a friend, a more popular teen who invited him along to visit some girls in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood. He says he had never been in trouble before and was pressured into stealing the woman’s pocketbook along the way.

“If not for alternative justice, I don’t think I would have survived,” said Mensah-Bonsu, an entertainer who goes by the name Youngmichael.

He was a panelist Sunday in Brooklyn, at an event the New Black Arts Movement organized to highlight programs and individuals working to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. About 40 parents, teachers, students and community members attended. It coincided with #ReclaimMLK activities being held across the country this weekend to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by focusing on systems that work.

Although he was charged as an adult and could have been sentenced to seven years in prison, Youngmichael was given an opportunity to participate in an alternative program that allowed him to avoid incarceration, use his musical talent to serve his community and finish school.

But he knows most are not so lucky.

New York is one of only two states where 16-year-olds are automatically charged as adults. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed raising the age to be charged as an adult, but legislation has stalled.

Raising the age will help, says educator David Levine, but keeping kids in school is key.

“We need to show students that by showing up, we have something to offer them,” he said. “Students need to see their school as a place of value, not as a place they’re stuck in.”

Levine said alternative discipline is an opportunity to keep kids in school and reduce the number of days missed due to suspension. Restorative justice programs avoid suspensions by allowing participants to acknowledge the harm created, work together to make amends and build relationships in order to prevent future incidents.

Data reported by the New York City Department of Education and compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) shows nearly 45,000 student suspensions were issued in 2014-15.

While that number is down from nearly 53,000 the year before and a high of nearly 74,000 in the 2008-09 school year, black students and students with special needs are still over-represented. While black students make up only 26 percent of the student population, they receive more than 53 percent of the suspensions. Special education students receive more than 36 percent of the suspensions although they make up only 13 percent of all students.

Rukia Lumumba, director of youth programs at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES) says that’s still too high. Inequitable discipline and the trauma associated with witnessing school brutality affects all students, not just the victim, she said.

“I saw several of my friends carried out in handcuffs, brutally dealt with,” said Lumumba who lived in Detroit and New York before attending high school in Jackson, Mississippi.

“At that time I had three friends — one 14, one 15 and one 16 — that got life sentences,” Lumumba said. “That for me was the moment I decided this was going to be my life’s work.”

She also said she saw first-hand the lifelong damage school-based brutality and other abuses left on the Jackson community.

“When I was growing up, my family was very vocal,” said Lumumba. Her late father was human rights attorney Chokwe Lumumba, who died shortly after being elected mayor of Jackson in 2014.

“But people around us, because they had such a traumatic history of brutality, of family members being in prison or being killed, having their livelihoods threatened, they didn’t speak out,” she said.

Lumumba stressed the importance of healing as a community in order to participate in creating better educational and other opportunities for future generations.

Youngmichael agrees and says for him, an important step has been forgiveness.

“Of course, it’s about making it right with whoever has been harmed,” he said. “But it’s more than that, it’s about realizing that a mistake doesn’t have to be an end and learning to forgive ourselves so we can become stronger.”

Panelists included Lumumba, multimedia hip-hop artist Nejma Shea, former public defender Cynthia Pong, youth advocate Ismael Rashad, Levine and Youngmichael.

Originally posted by Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Sunday, January 17, Nan Austin, The Modesto Bee

Modesto City Schools has slashed its numbers of suspensions and expulsions, adding proactive programs and in-school options. But African Americans, especially boys, are still far more likely to be kicked off campus than people of other ethnicities.

“Back in (2011-12) we stuck out like a sore thumb because of the expulsions. Now the numbers are way down, so something’s working,” said Ed Miller, the district’s head of discipline and truancy. But not working well enough, he adds, for African Americans.

“We need to figure out this one last piece,” he said.

The disparity has attracted state notice, requiring the district to spend around $850,000 each of the last four years to improve the odds of success for African Americans and other groups. The state sanctions were on behalf of special education students, “but we knew that we had to address it districtwide. We were globally suspending way too many kids,” said Ginger Johnson, associate superintendent of educational services.

Using a mix of interventions and targeted help, the district slashed the numbers of children being sent home, from nearly 1 in 8 students being suspended in 2009-10 to fewer than 1 in 16 in 2014-15. The same is true of expulsions, which have dropped to zero so far this year, Miller said.

In 2011-12 there were 45 students expelled. Last year there were four, and Miller remembers every case. In each instance the severity of the incident tied his hands, he said.

“We’re only really expelling for serious offenses: weapons, injured students, assault and repetitive violence, drug sales,” he said, with others getting extra help or in-school solutions. Restorative justice and other progressive programs are being rolled out at Modesto campuses.

“Five years ago, the thought of having a kid get counseling when they start having trouble just wasn’t there. That didn’t exist five years ago. Now it’s one of the first things we do,” Miller said.

A yet-to-be-released report will show the district has met state expectations in lower discipline numbers for all groups in its elementary schools and junior highs, but still needs to reduce discipline rates for African American students in its high schools, Johnson said.

The state sanctions are based on tiny numbers, just a couple of suspended special education students too many. But that disparity appears across the general population, as well, a distinction that remains year after year.

There are other disparities as well for African American students. Fewer take the PSAT test that prompts counselors to suggest taking Advanced Placement courses, noted Johnson. At one high school, African American students made up 2 percent of the pre-college test-takers, though they make up 5 percent of the student body.

“This kind of data forwards conversations on how a student’s demographics increases, or decreases, their success in school. Conversations become more powerful when data is used,” Johnson said. Conversations about race are especially sensitive, she said, making data often the best way to approach the issue.

“A lot of the referrals (for suspensions) are coming from inside classrooms,” Johnson said the data show. But cultural trainings that might help lower those numbers had to wait while the district focused on the shift to Common Core educational standards. “Now we might be looking at that,” she said.

While the district has laid out explicit guidelines for discipline, African American families tell of a familiar pattern. Their children do well in school for several years, then have trouble with a particular teacher. One year of being sent to the office repeatedly becomes a reputation that follows them for years.

For 14-year-old Jaimaré Limbrick, a tall teen with a deeply resonant voice, that year came in elementary school. In junior high, he did well in every class but one.

“It was the same thing – singling him out, sending him to the office,” said his mother, Tameka Runner. “The teacher told me, ‘Well, he does the same in every class,’ but I told her, ‘Actually, no, he doesn’t. I’ve talked to all his other teachers.’ ”

Asked if he felt he was being singled out because of his race, Limbrick thought a moment before answering. Yes for one, but the other teacher had always taught kindergarten or first grade and seemed overwhelmed by all her older students, he said. Now a Downey High School freshman, Limbrick says his grades are good, his record clean, and his focus is on college and a career as a defense attorney.

“I just try to get my work done, be more responsible,” he said. He credits his turnaround on joining Advocates for Justice, a mentoring group for African American students. The group takes field trips, teaches history of African Americans and has practical sessions on how to get through school without problems.

“They taught us to try not to stick out. Don’t get noticed,” Limbrick said. “It makes school easier.”

The group was started by twin Modesto-grown attorneys practicing in the Bay Area, Jacq and Jacque Wilson.

“We want to show them there’s a greater world out there, just to give them hope. You get caught up in the situation, living on the West Side, and you think that’s all there is,” said Jacq Wilson.

Jacque Wilson said when he speaks to the kids, he speaks from experience.

“I would have been suspended and expelled. But for a father who fought the school district and community members who fought the school district, I would not be where I am today,” he said.

The Wilsons and their father have been among community members speaking on the topic during several public-comment sessions at Modesto City Schools board meetings. One common complaint has been the lack of role models among teachers and administrators in the district.

In 2014-15, approximately 75 percent of the Modesto district’s teachers were white, compared with 65 percent of teachers across California, by state figures. One percent of Modesto teachers were African American, compared with 4 percent statewide. Among Modesto administrators, 81 percent were white, with one African American, in 2014-15.

The issue of disproportionate discipline will come before the board at Tuesday’s meeting. The Wilsons, with the Advocates for Justice and NAACP, will speak in an agenda item placed by public request. Reached by phone, the brothers said they want to keep African American kids from heading down what is being called “the school-to-prison pipeline.”

“We know there is a strong correlation if you’re suspended or expelled. If you’re kicked out of school, you’re more likely to end up in the criminal justice system,” said Jacque Wilson, a public defender. “We commend them for getting the numbers down.”

But, his brother added, “We want them to go from good to great. It’s still grossly disproportionate.”

They are bringing this before the board, he said, in hopes of moving the needle forward.

“I’m tired of talking about the problem. I want to talk about solutions,” Jacq Wilson said.

A study released in October suggests solutions need to start early. “Black Minds Matter,” by The Education Trust – West, documents what it calls a tragic opportunity and achievement gap from cradle to grave.

The study found higher numbers of suspensions and expulsions across the board, with African American girls suspended six times as often as their white counterparts by national averages. The report calls out teachers as part of the problem, saying, “Researchers find that teacher bias and discrimination at least partly explain these disciplinary disparities.”

Besides a statewide disparity in discipline, the study chronicles higher absenteeism, with 20 percent of African American elementary students missing 10 percent or more of school days compared with 8 percent of white students.

In part that is due to students being afraid to go to school. African American students are twice as likely as their white classmates to feel unsafe on campus, researchers found.

Among the report’s recommendations are more quality preschool spots, early family engagement and adding magnet schools to promote integration, especially where high-minority areas result in highly segregated schools.

“The typical Black student attends a school where nearly 70 percent of his peers are Black or Latino, and just over 65 percent are poor,” notes the report. That standard, however, encompasses all but five Modesto City Schools elementary campuses. In fact, at 10 of Modesto’s elementary schools and two junior highs, more than 97 percent of students are low-income and at least 90 percent are minorities, mostly Latino.

The highest percentage of African American students at any school site is 8 percent, at Elliott Alternative Education Center, the district’s continuation high school.

The lowest percentage of African American students is at Lakewood Elementary School, the district’s wealthiest school, serving a large number of gifted students. Only one African American student attended Lakewood in 2014-15.

Originally posted by The Modesto Bee

Sunday, January 17, T. Keung Hui, The News & Observer

The Wake County school system allows some transgender students to use the student bathroom of their choice while offering to let other transgender students use staff restrooms.

Wake County school officials say they decide whether to approve requests from transgender students to use different restrooms case by case, approving some and turning down others. Now two transgender teenagers are urging North Carolina’s largest school system to allow all transgender students to use the restroom that matches their identity.

An online petition was created after Hayden Riner, 17, said he was threatened with suspension from Athens Drive High School in Raleigh if he continued to use the boys’ restroom. Hayden was born a female but identifies himself as male.

“The public school system was set in place to give every student an equal opportunity to gain a good education,” Hayden said. “It’s really hard to get a good education when you’re being threatened to be suspended for using the restroom.”

The petition, which had 698 signatures as of Sunday afternoon, comes amid a national push backed by the Obama administration to expand protections for transgender students. But the effort has drawn opposition from social conservatives who cite religious and privacy reasons.

“These restroom policies in schools essentially convey the message to children that their gender is not connected to their anatomy,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League. “These policies cooperate and facilitate what has been rightly characterized as a mental disorder and thus is harming the children.”

Issue in governor’s race

The issue of usage of school bathrooms is even part of the gubernatorial campaign. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory criticized state Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, for not supporting a Virginia school district that is being sued in federal court. McCrory filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting that district’s right to not allow transgender students to use a restroom that’s different from that of their biological sex.

Last year, federal education and justice lawyers argued in a statement of interest in the Virginia case that requiring a student to use the bathroom that matches birth-assigned sex, rather than declared identity, amounts to bias under the Title IX anti-discrimination law.

Locally, each bathroom request from a transgender student is reviewed individually, according to Heather Lawing, a Wake County school spokeswoman. Lawing said the review takes into account factors such as the age of the student, the wishes of the student’s parents, feedback from the principal and teachers, and the availability of restroom facilities.

Lawing said Wake would also review and potentially approve any requests from transgender students to use the locker-room facility of the gender they identify with. She said students don’t typically shower in locker rooms unless they’re on athletic teams.

Lawing said the district is not aware of any requests having been made from transgender students to use locker-room facilities matching their gender identity.

But Wake has approved bathroom requests from transgender students to use restrooms that are opposite of their biological sex, according to Lawing. However, she said Wake doesn’t collect data on how many requests have been made or granted.

In cases where requests aren’t granted, Lawing said that options such as use of staff bathrooms are offered.

“We work with students to accommodate them and to make them feel supported and safe in the environment and will continue working with them until we can make them happy,” Lawing said.

Launching the petition drive

But Hayden said he felt far from safe and supported at Athens Drive when he was ordered to stop using the boys’ bathroom. Lawing said she couldn’t discuss Hayden’s case because of federal privacy laws.

Hayden said he was given the options of using a staff restroom or the restroom in the school’s library, which also serves as a community library. But Hayden said the options weren’t practical because the restrooms were sometimes locked and were far from many of his classes, causing him to be late.

Hayden also disagrees with Wake’s stance that because most students are minors, administrators won’t approve the request if the parents are opposed. In Hayden’s case, his father, Kelden Everett, says the school system never asked him about Hayden’s request.

“If the student is old enough to be taking driver’s ed and is old enough to be deciding what college to go to, they’re old enough to decide what bathroom to use,” Hayden said. “They’re fully capable of making their own decision.”

Hayden says problems at the school, such as how a teacher didn’t respect his requests to be referred to as a male, resulted in the senior leaving Athens Drive in September. Hayden enrolled in an alternative school program and graduated in October.

Hayden’s plight prompted his friend, C.J. Lewis, 17, a senior at Athens Drive High, to create an online petition asking Superintendent Jim Merrill and school board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee, to change district policy.

“There are these bright minds that you’re not giving equal access to like other bright minds in Wake County,” said C.J., who is also transgender. “To not give them the same opportunities as other students is a disservice.”

Board member’s response

Martin said he’s comfortable with leaving in place existing policies that give flexibility to staff to handle requests from transgender students. Board policies prohibit harassment and bullying of students because of their gender identity.

“I would highly doubt that the board would write a bathroom policy,” Martin said. “Policy should never be narrowly focused on narrow, specific actions.”

Wake’s approach of handling requests case by case doesn’t satisfy groups on different ends of the spectrum.

John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council, said it’s reasonable to allow transgender students to have access to private restrooms. But he said it would go too far, even on a case-by-case basis, to allow transgender students to share restrooms with students of a different biological sex.

“To adopt a policy that could have a detrimental effect on a wide swath of students to accommodate a single student or a small handful of students when a different type of accommodation could meet that same need doesn’t seem like a common sense or a reasonable approach,” Rustin said.

But Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said transgender students shouldn’t have to be paraded to a staff restroom. He said Wake’s approach puts up too much red tape for transgender students.

“We all know that being an adolescent and being a high school student is hard enough,” Sgro said. “We don’t need to further subject folks who are subject to discrimination to go through an even harder process to have a basic comfort to use the restroom during the school day.”

Originally posted by The News & Observer

Saturday, January 16, Jason Nevel, The State Journal-Register

The impact of sweeping reform of Illinois’ school discipline policies that takes effect next school year will vary greatly from district to district, local school officials say.

Senate Bill 100, signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner last summer, is aimed at reducing out-of-school suspensions.

Under the law, schools will be required to exhaust all other means of intervention before expelling students or suspending them for more than three days. An exception is granted for students who pose a safety threat or substantially disrupt the operation of the school.

Experts, including at the National School Boards Association, say punishing students with out-of-school suspensions can be detrimental because it takes children out of a learning environment and often leaves them unsupervised because their parents still have to work.

The legislation also ends zero-tolerance policies, addresses bullying, creates a parent-teacher advisory board on school discipline, allows students to make up homework and requires districts to provide a rationale for why students are suspended or expelled.

In addition, the legislation requires that sending students to alternative schools be a last resort.

Suspension rates

Due to their low levels of out-of-school suspensions, school administrators in Chatham, Rochester and Williamsville-Sherman said they don’t expect the new rules to be much of an adjustment.

Combined, those districts issued out-of-school suspensions to 293 students last school year, with 210 of those coming in Chatham, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Springfield is a different story, where two-thirds of the roughly 15,000 students are low income.

State education data shows District 186 issued 4,188 out-of-school suspensions last school year. Of that total, 1,835 were for more than three days.

An analysis by the website Reboot Illinois found the Springfield School District’s out-of-school suspension and expulsion rate ranked 24th highest in the state last school year.

Superintendent Jennifer Gill said the lengthier suspensions were predominantly for fighting at the middle and high schools.

One of the biggest changes is that the law will require the district to re-evaluate the length of time students are suspended. In addition, the district is required to develop policies - commonly referred to as restorative justice practices - to best integrate students back into school safely, Gill said.

That is a balancing act, however, she noted, because school administrators have to think about what effect bringing back more aggressive students sooner will have on their classmates. The key will be getting both groups together and working out their differences, she said.

District 186, as well as other schools in Illinois, is waiting for the state board to provide clarity on what constitutes a safety threat and what restorative measures will be necessary, Gill said.

“This law was written with good intent,” she said. “There are two sides to this.”

Programs in place

Concerning compliance with the law, Springfield is in better shape than some other larger districts, school officials say.
Gill said every effort is made in District 186 to notify parents as to why disciplinary steps are being taken, but more could probably be done.

School board president Mike Zimmers noted that the district has a review process where students facing expulsion get to explain their actions before a panel.

Few students in Springfield go without any educational programs, and all students have the option of making up their homework, both Zimmers and Gill said.

District 186 has two alternative school options: the Springfield Learning Academy and Douglas School. The local chapter of the NAACP offers an educational program for expelled students, Gill added.

“Our district is much more in tune with what the law says,” she said.

Last school year, the district cut down on the number of suspensions it issued due to a renewed emphasis on its behavior programs, Gill said.

District 186 uses the PBIS model, tracks behavior and gathers data on individual students to determine the best approach to deal with problems, similar to how schools monitor reading and math scores.

As a result, in-school and out-of-school suspensions dropped nearly 11 percent last year from 2013-14 totals, the district's suspension data shows.

Gill said she and her staff are continuing to look at ways to reduce suspensions and provide support for families.

“We knew this law was coming and have been working toward putting the right policies in place,” she said.
Leave it to the educators

Although described as a sweeping reform, Senate Bill 100 really just puts in place common-sense policies already being conducted by the majority of school districts, said David Root, superintendent of the Williamsville-Sherman School District.
Root said he doesn’t have any major problems with what the legislation is trying to accomplish, but believes school districts are better equipped than lawmakers at deciding what levels of punishment are appropriate.

Furthermore, Root said, he wished lawmakers included additional funding for alternative schools if they were going to limit how often schools could send students home.

“I don’t know why they have to have hand-holding at the Capitol on common-sense educational decisions,” Root said. “They need to focus on the revenue and getting schools financed. We’ll take care of the educational process.”

Rochester Superintendent Tom Bertrand said there are many unknowns about the law because the State Board of Education still needs to formally write the rules and regulations. That will help clarify concerns Gill and other educators have, such as how do districts define what constitutes a threat and what restorative measures are necessary, Bertrand said.

“We still need to get a handle on what is considered a threat versus other behaviors,” he said.

David Hay, assistant principal at Glenwood High School in Chatham, said the law focuses on something the district has strived to do for years –- keep students in the classroom.

There was a push two years ago at the high school to focus on putting interventions in place to prevent minor infractions from becoming major problems, he said. As a result, Glenwood cut suspensions by 30 percent, he said.

“We reviewed (the law) and we clearly could see we have been doing these things for a long time because it’s what’s best for kids,” Hay said.

Originally posted by The State Journal-Register

Thursday, January 14, Jonathan Dame, Wicked Local

Newton Public Schools suspended about 30 percent fewer students during the 2014-15 school year — keeping its discipline rate below the state average — but disparities persisted among racial and socioeconomic lines, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The district suspended black and Latino students, students with disabilities, high-needs students and low-income students at disproportionately high rates, mirroring trends observed statewide.

The decline in Newton’s suspension rate came as Massachusetts schools reported a 20 percent decrease overall in the number of students suspended or expelled.

With the goal of reducing suspensions, state education officials passed new regulations on student discipline that went into effect last summer.

Newton Superintendent David Fleishman said the new regulations simply reinforced the district’s own emphasis on using suspension as a last resort.

“To have kids out of school is generally never a good thing,” Fleishman said. “They’re isolated and they can get further behind.”

During the 2014-2015 school year, the district’s out-of-school suspension rate was 0.5 percent —down from 1.3 percent the year before. The in-school rate was steady at 1 percent.
The out-of-school suspension rate dropped from 4.9 percent to 1.3 percent for black students; from 4.2 percent to 1.5 percent for economically disadvantaged students, and from 4 percent to 1.7 percent for students with disabilities.

The out-of-school suspension rate for white students, meanwhile, dropped from 1.1 to 0.5 percent.

Fleishman said the district was “very committed to addressing” the disparities, which he pegged as part of a larger societal problem.

One area of focus, he said, is on closing gaps among different demographic groups when it comes to “school connectedness,” a measure of how connected students feel to their peers, teachers, and school environment as a whole.

District leaders — himself included — have tried to be talk more openly about race, he said, while also creating spaces for students of color to discuss their experiences. This is in an effort to recognize “our own biases as staff” and reflect on how they might come into play when working with students, he said.

The statewide out-of-school suspension rate for black students was 6.9 percent in 2014-15, compared to 5.6 percent for Latinos and 1.8 percent for whites.

Overall, the statewide out-of-school suspension rate for all students was 2.9 percent, down from 3.9 percent in the previous year.

“I think the fact that data is now collected on a regular basis puts a spotlight on the issue,” said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “I think what we’re scrutinizing more and more is: ‘Were those actions of suspension necessary? Were other interventions used first? Did that action warrant that level of suspension?’”

Following passage of a 2012 state law, the DESE implemented new regulations in July 2014 in an effort to reduce suspensions and promote alternate forms of discipline aimed at keeping students in school and engaged in their work.

The new state guidelines, often referred to as Chapter 222, make out-of-school suspension a last resort for nonviolent, non-drug-related and non-criminal offenses.

Alternatives to suspension could include restorative justice and positive behavior support programs. Examples of such alternative discipline measures could include community service outside of school hours or peer mediation.

“The obvious benefit is students will remain in school and continue to be educated,” said Janine Solomon, managing attorney and senior project director for Massachusetts Advocates for Children. “I think this is going to help overall with dropout prevention and result in more students getting a high school diploma and hopefully go on to higher education or employment.”

Matt Cregor, an attorney with the Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, said the racial disparity in discipline was narrowing, as black and Hispanic students experienced the sharpest decreases in their suspension rates.

Newton School Committee Chairman Matt Hills said that “no one should ever be happy or satisfied” until racial and other disparities are eliminated.

“We’ve tried to make very significant progress pushing back against trends that afflict the entire state and the entire country. There is still more work to do,” Hills said. “The school department’s objective is never to suspend and deprive kids of education.”

Many charter schools have suspension rates above the state average, a trend advocates said they will monitor.

Solomon said Massachusetts Advocates for Children and other members of a statewide education law task force plan to meet with the DESE as Chapter 222 continues to be implemented.

“We have been involved in school discipline for quite a while …” she said. “With Chapter 222, our hope is schools will be starting to look at alternatives to exclusion. It’s hopeful that some schools are going to be adopting policies for some of the nonviolent, non-drug-related offenses.”

Originally posted by Wicked Local

Jamal, an African American student, was removed from his school’s special education program even though his disability caused him to struggle academically. 

Thursday, January 14, Breanna Williams, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Jamal, an African American student, was removed from his school’s special education program even though his disability caused him to struggle academically. This led to behavioral problems, and punitive responses to his emotional and academic issues escalated until he was ultimately arrested at school. Unfortunately, Jamal’s story is not unusual; it describes a larger trend in which students, particularly Black and Latino students, are introduced into the criminal justice system by discipline practices in their schools that lead to arrests or exclusion through suspension or expulsion. This trend is commonly referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline, and it is often cited as one of the primary reasons that the American criminal justice system serves so many Black and Latino defendants.

Implicit biases—unconscious associations between groups of people and stereotypical ideas—affect the routine classroom and administrative decisions that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline at the classroom and institutional levels. Research from Harvard University’s Project Implicit indicates that about sixty-eight percent of Americans have an implicit preference for whites over African Americans; therefore, it is imperative for school personnel to recognize the role that bias plays in the educational context. In addition to impacting student achievement and teacher expectations, implicit racial bias may also affect both which students are referred for formal discipline proceedings and how severely those students are disciplined.

This evidence that implicit racial bias contributes to the documented lower academic achievement, higher discipline rates, and lower graduation rates of minority students in comparison to their white peers suggests that implicit racial bias leads to a systemic failure of American schools to adequately serve minority students. This failure to appropriately educate minority students has dramatic implications on several life outcomes including involvement in the criminal justice system. In fact, research from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity indicates that, “a third of all black male high school dropouts between the ages of 20 and 39 were imprisoned” in 2010.

Implicit Racial Bias and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

  • Implicit Racial Bias impacts teachers’ expectations for their students. Recent research indicates that teachers tend to hold lower achievement expectations for African American and Latino students than their white peers. This difference in expectations could cause teachers to grade Black and Latino students more harshly, to invest less time tutoring students of color, to recommend them for gifted programs less frequently, and to refer them for special education programs more frequently.
  • Fear of implicit racial bias affects the academic performance of Black and Latino students. When Black or Latino students fear that their performance on a test or other assessment will confirm a negative stereotype about their racial groups, stereotype threat causes them to earn lower grades than they otherwise would have. Additionally, research by social psychologists Cohen and Steele indicates that minority students do worse academically if they believe that bad grades and negative feedback are the result of a teacher’s bias against them.
  • Implicit racial bias influences the way that school administrators perceive student behavior. Because of implicit biases linking African Americans and Latinos with aggression, students from these racial groups are more likely to be perceived as “defiant” or “disrespectful” than white students. This idea explains why Black and Latino students are more likely to be referred to the office for punishment under subjective school policies than whites.
  • Implicit Racial Bias affects how severely school administrators punish students for misbehavior. Social psychologists Eberhardt and Okonofua found that school administrators feel more troubled by the misbehavior of students of color and are more likely to perceive an isolated incidents as a part of a larger pattern of misconduct when the actor is Black or Latino. Okonofua and Eberhardt hypothesize that this “Black-escalation effect” exists because the implicit racial bias linking African Americans and Latinos with aggression primes school administrators to believe that students of color are more prone to misbehavior, making them more likely to connect these students’ prior instances of misconduct into a larger, more troubling pattern of infractions that requires harsher punishment.
  • The implicit racial bias linking Blacks and Latinos with unintelligence can cause teachers to lower their expectations for the students of color in their classrooms or to put less effort into helping them reach their academic goals. These negative academic experiences can shape the way that students of color understand their experience in school and their potential as students, causing them to achieve at lower levels than their white counterparts and pushing them into the school-to-prison pipeline. Additionally, the implicit bias linking African Americans and Latinos with aggression and criminality can lead school administrators to administer harsher punishments to students of color. These exceptionally harsh punishments can escalate until these students are arrested and literally swept from school to prison, like Jamal.

Can We End the School to Prison Pipeline?

Jamal floundered for years in a school in which his teachers and administrators responded punitively to his academic and behavioral difficulties, even though a different response might have followed if he had been a different race. Jamal lost interest in school, a racially hostile environment, until he transferred to a new school more willing to work with him to address his mental and emotional challenges. What strategies can school districts implement in an effort to end the school-to-prison pipeline?

  • Abandon zero tolerance policies. Data from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity suggests that zero tolerance policies mandating expulsion or suspension in certain situations affect racial minority students at “alarmingly disproportionate rates” and have not been successful at deterring misbehavior or improving school safety.
  • Implement programs in restorative justice or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Restorative justice and PBIS strategies encourage school administrators to rethink punitive responses to student misbehavior and instead to allow students to accept the consequences of their behavior. These approaches to behavioral intervention to allow students to perform some type of restitution within the learning environment instead of removing them through exclusionary punishments such as suspension and expulsion.
  • Provide training on implicit racial bias to school personnel such as teachers, administrators, and campus police. School personnel should be encouraged to become more aware of their biases by taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) for race, then informed about the numerous ways that their biases might shape the way that they understand and respond to their students’ needs and potentials.
  • Collect data on discipline referrals. This data could be connected with data on academic achievement in order to monitor the effects of exclusionary discipline on student achievement. This information could also be a useful way to identify subjective offenses that disproportionally result in the punishment of minority students such as “willful defiance.”

These policy reforms are important components of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline and promote greater educational opportunity for all students, regardless of race.

Originally posted by The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The roomful of grownups closed their eyes because a teenager told them to.

Thursday, January 14, Joy Resmovits, Los Angeles Times

The roomful of grownups closed their eyes because a teenager told them to.

“Imagine if you are 16 years old. It’s only Tuesday, and all you have left is $10,” Sky Lowe, a junior at Oakland High School, said to the California State Board of Education on Wednesday. “You sit there and you ponder: ... Will it be bus money to get to school, or will it be laundry detergent for clean clothes? You can open your eyes now.” It’s a decision he was forced to make after his mother lost her job.

The student was one of several who addressed the State Board of Education at its January meeting Wednesday. At stake is the entire foundation of the state’s education system: how California’s public schools are evaluated for their performance.

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement of the No Child Left Behind Act, is requiring the state to rethink how it grades schools. In addition to measures of academic progress, under the new law states must take into account at least one out-of-the-classroom factor, such as suspension rates, attendance or school climate, a sense of how safe students feel in school.

The state board was going in that direction anyway, but now that the federal law requires compliance by the 2017-2018 school year, it has to figure out exactly how to weight the factors, and how to use them to determine which schools need extra help. The new direction reflects a sense across the country that standardized testing has gotten out of hand, and that academic results don’t provide a complete picture of school performance.

Because Lowe didn’t have enough bus money, he missed a lot of school this semester — enough, he told the board, that in the parlance of school accountability, “you would call [it] chronic absence.” He found himself ready to give up on school altogether, let alone college.

One of his teachers, though, sensed he was struggling and helped him in a number of ways, including giving him a bag of quarters for laundry. “I decided to get my grades up and back on track,” he said. “That is what it looks like to make school engagement a priority.”

Lowe and a group of five other students organized by the group Californians for Justice pressed the board to include school climate as a priority. An earlier draft of the new school accountability system includes seven "key indicators," including "access to basic supports," "access to basic courses," attendance, graduation rates and other academic measures. School climate is listed as an "associate indicator," and it's one of nine.

For some students and their advocates, it’s not enough. They want school climate upgraded to indicator status. “What does it mean to engage a student? We’re not talking just about reducing suspension rates,” Saa’un Bell, statewide communications director for Californians for Justice, said in an interview. “We’re talking adults who are actually encouraging students to be in school, to do their homework, that are actually engaging them in the classroom.” If engagement or climate is not a priority for school accountability, Bell said, schools are likely to be less serious about it.

In an earlier discussion that day, student board member Michael McFarland voiced support for figuring out ways to measure school climate. There’s more to school climate, said McFarland, a student at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, than surveys that ask students how safe they feel on campus. He wants to be able to get at college stress, he said, and “how is school a collaborative environment.”

But after the students’ presentations, board member Sue Burr said she doesn’t see the state asking for schools to collect even more information. “It’s not likely that we’re going to move in that direction so instead let’s look at what we have and see what’s available to us,” she said.

Others spoke to the need to focus on chronic absenteeism or suspension rates.

In the meantime, until Every Child Succeeds kicks in, the board has to deal with reality: it still has to operate under the strictures of No Child Left Behind, which was widely criticized for being too punitive. Unlike most other states, California has not received a waiver from certain elements of the law. On Wednesday, the board voted to apply for one that would lift the requirement of identifying new schools that don’t make Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the law, and that districts with underperforming schools have to set aside a significant portion of their budgets for tutoring.

Originally posted by the Los Angeles Times