PRO BONOWEEK 2015– RISE ABOVE YOUR NARROW CONFINES
schools safer, as intended, these practices often further marginalize and criminalize vulnerable students. Contributing Factors The STPP is created by a combination of factors that exist both within the school system and externally in the community. Within the school system, the lack of adequate resources and support for students creates an environment that sets students up to fail. Students in need of supportive services to help them in school are often from struggling communities and attend the least resourced schools. These schools endure the highest level of neglect and destabilization, frequently dealing with constant changes in administrators and teachers, debilitating budget cuts, and threats of closure and restructuring. This makes it extremely difficult for schools to meet the basic needs of students, let alone the extraordinary needs of students deal- ing with conditions of extreme poverty, exposure to trauma and violence, or other familial and societal stressors. Yet, in all schools, students are expected to perform in an increasingly high pressured and com- petitive academic environment, regardless of whether they have meaningful social- emotional support. Some of our most vulnerable students are ultimately excluded from the school system, either by school administrators pushing the student out of school through discipline processes, or the disconnected student choosing to drop-out of school. As may be expected, students who are not supported become increasingly dis- engaged in the curriculum and begin to exhibit behaviors that are disruptive to the learning environment. Unfortunately, school administrators too often react with discipline practices that are more focused on punishment than helping young people learn from their mistakes. Consider the use of out-of-school suspensions; students can be kept out of school for up to two weeks with no educational services. When those students return, little is done to reintegrate them back into the school environment.
Consider these two scenarios:
One snowy day, Jordan and his friends werewalking home froma basketball game. On their way, they saw one of their coaches who was always “cool” and playful with students. As a joke, Jordan’s friends dared him to throw a snowball at the coach. However, when Jordan threw the snowball, the coach did not find it very funny. Instead, he became upset and reported the incident to the school’s administrators the next day. One day, Brandon came to school really upset after learning that a close friend had just passed away. Brandon was a high school junior, played foot- ball for his school, and wanted to enroll in college on a football scholarship. As hewaswalking into thebuilding to talk tohis counselor, a school resources officer stopped him to ask that he show his ID. Brandon became annoyed, and flashed the ID, but refused to place the attached lanyard around his neck at the officer’s request. When the officer placed his arm in Brandon’s way, to prevent him from entering, Brandon pushed the officer’s arm and rushed past. The officer pursued Brandon and the two argued. Both students in these scenarios could easily be referred for expulsion which, in Illinois, means that they could lose access to all public education for up to two years. In fact, it is not uncommon that either student would be arrested for the incident and charged with assault or battery. Statistics tell us that students receiving this type of punishment are more likely to be African-Americanmales, low-income, LGBT, or a student with a disability. The reality is that schools throughout the country rely on harsh and exclusion- ary discipline practices that disproportionately impact some of our most vulnerable young people. Without access to education, these young people are more likely to come in contact with the criminal justice system, become victims and perpetrators of violence, or perpetuate a cycle of poverty. As a profession of advocates, lawyers need to understand and combat school discipline practices that shut the schoolhouse doors to our young people who need access to it the most.
A cross the country, schools have increasingly relied on exclusion- ary discipline, zero-tolerance policies, and law enforcement tactics to address student conduct. This has led to a national crisis commonly referred to as The “School-to-Prison Pipeline” (“STPP”). Since the “Gun-Free School Zones Act” and “Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act” of the 1990s, we have seen a marked increase in schools’ use of penal approaches to discipline. Schools widely rely on exclusionary discipline
practices, such as out-of-school suspen- sions and expulsions to address minor and subjective misbehaviors like “insubordina- tion” and “willful defiance.” Schools have developed zero-tolerance policies: rules that disregard individual circumstances in favor of automatic, punitive measures. There has been a greater reliance on law enforcement and many schools began stationing school resource officers (SRO) in the school, a practice that has increased in response to school shootings across the nation. However, instead of making
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