NESRI joined members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) in the fourth annual National Week of Action Against School Pushout from September 28 to October 5, 2013. Over 60 organizations in 22 states held marches, rallies, teach-ins and community forums to demand an end to harsh school disciplinary policies that deny students their fundamental human right to education.
The latest national data show that more than 3 million students are suspended each year and increasing numbers of law enforcement officers respond to minor school disciplinary matters that used to be dealt with by a visit to the principal's office. These policies are pushing students out of school and down a pipeline to prison and low-wage jobs.
DSC members are joining together to demand school policies that reflect positive approaches to discipline, including Restorative Justice and School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). These approaches focus on building healthy relationships between teachers and students and treating discipline as a teaching moment rather than an opportunity to punish and push kids out of school.
The School Pushout Problem and the Solutions
During this year’s Week of Action, DSC highlighted a different theme each day related to our work to end school pushout, releasing a short video and promoting awareness through social media and local actions.
Solutions Not Suspensions – Each year, over 3 million students are suspended from school, often for minor misbehavior, without access to educational services or interventions to address the root causes of misbehavior. During the Week of Action, DSC members across the county called for a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions and demanded resources and support for schools to implement positive alternatives. On October 1st, the Education Justice Alliance, Youth Organizing Institute and NC HEAT held a press conference at the Wake County School Board meeting in North Carolina to announce their campaign for a moratorium, generating national attention and commitment from the School Board to address out-of-school suspensions.
In New Orleans, NESRI’s partner Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) launched the DSC-New Orleans Chapter and participated in a book signing and discussion of The New Jim Crow with author Michelle Alexander, who endorsed FFLIC’s campaign to reduce out of school suspensions by 50% by 2017.
“I strongly support Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children as they launch the New Orleans Chapter of Dignity in Schools. They’re calling on local school districts and governmental officials to end out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions and to focus on implementing compassionate solutions that work," said Alexander.
“It is absolutely essential that we shift away from a purely punitive, zero tolerance approach to dealing with our young people and employ more constructive and restorative practices instead. Young people must be held accountable for normal adolescent behavior like 'willful disobedience,' but they should not be forced out of school — a practice that only contributes to high dropout rates, widens the achievement gap, and feeds the school-to-prison pipeline.”
In New Jersey on October 16, the Parent Education Organizing Council and Paterson Education Fund won a victory in their campaign for a moratorium when the Paterson School Board passed a resolution ending out-of-school suspensions for minor Level 1 infractions. Watch DSC’s video on Solutions Not Suspensions here.
Counselors Not Cops – Increasingly schools in low-income communities of color rely on police and school resource officers to address school disciplinary matters that should be handled by educators. In 2009, Black and Latino students were targeted with 70% of school-related arrests and referrals to law enforcement. Youth of color across the country are pushing back with the You Can’t Build Peace with a Piece campaign to call on our school systems to invest in counselors, community intervention workers and peace-builders, not police and school resource officers. Watch DSC’s video here.
Racial Disparities in School Discipline – Youth of color are being pushed out of school by unwelcoming school environments and harsh discipline policies that make schools feel more and more like prisons. Black and Latino students are punished more severely than white students for the same behaviors, resulting in higher rates of suspension, expulsion and arrest. During the Week of Action, the Minnesota Minority Education Project (MMEP) released a policy brief on Protecting Students Human Right to Education which found that almost one in five black male students were suspended at least once in Minneapolis schools in 2012, compared with one in 29 white male students. Click here to watch DSC’s video.
Pushout Policies Impacting LGBTQ Youth – More than 8 out of 10 LGBTQ youth report being verbally harassed about their sexual orientation at school, and 6 out of 10 report feeling unsafe at school. Yet as lawmakers have responded to bullying behavior in schools, they rely on punitive, zero-tolerance approaches, like suspensions and expulsions, that fail to prevent or address bullying behavior. The national Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network) participated in this year’s Week of Action, holding youth summits, rallies and marches on issues of push out and solutions for LGBTQ youth. Watch a video here.
Restorative Justice – Many of DSC’s members are leading the charge for implementation of Restorative Justice in our schools, an approach to school discipline that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by misconduct rather than punishment. On October 4th NESRI’s partner Teachers Unite held a screening of their new documentary Growing Fairness at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, featuring interviews of educators, students and parents from around the country implementing restorative justice in their schools. DSC member Critical Exposure also screened the film in Washington, DC, generating a story on restorative justice in the American Prospect. Watch a short video here featuring a clip from the Growing Fairness documentary.
School-Wide PBIS – Across the country DSC members are advocating for school districts to adopt a school-wide framework for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in order to: promote positive alternatives to suspension, including restorative justice, ensure parent and community participation in discipline, and use data to make decisions and hold schools accountable. A new report on Effective Discipline for Student Success, released by South Carolina Appleseed during the Week of Action, describes the impact of SWPBIS on improving school climate and calls for implementation of PBIS in every school in South Carolina.
In South Los Angeles, parent leaders with NESRI’s partner CADRE (Community Asset Development Re-defining Education) met with administrators at Freemont High School to advocate for implementation of the Los Angeles School District’s School Climate Bill of Rights passed this May, which calls for implementation of the district-wide PBIS policy and bans suspensions for the minor misbehavior “willful defiance.” Watch DSC’s short video on PBIS.
Pushout Policies Impacting Immigrant Youth – An increasing reliance on school police officers and punitive discipline policies in schools leaves immigrant and undocumented youth vulnerable to criminalization and even deportation. On October 4th DSC member Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) hosted a workshop entitled Undocumented and Unafraid: Youth Organizing for Policy Change. You can check out DSC’s video here on pushout policies and immigrant youth.
Invest in Education Not Incarceration – On average, states spend $88,000 a year to incarcerate youth, but only $10,000 to educate them. In the past 20 years, the amount spent on incarceration, parole and probation increased 6 times more than money for colleges and universities. In times of budget cuts and struggling schools, the United States spends 70 billion dollars a year on incarceration. Click here to watch a short video.
Join the Dignity in Schools Campaign to help raise awareness and take action to push back against school pushout in your community!
• Sign-on to our call for a Moratorium on Out of School Suspensions
• Share the Model Code on Education and Dignity, featuring alternatives to suspension, with members of your community.