September 19, 2021

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Panel calls for ‘paradigm shift’ in Virginia school-to-prison pipeline

RICHMOND, VA. (CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE) – According to speakers at a recent University of Richmond symposium, schools have become places of trauma for color students, helping to fuel centuries of systemic racism by driving students into criminal justice.

The UR School of Law hosted one six hour event via zoom with four presentations, nine panelists and over 200 participants. The event was attended by UR law students, educators, social justice advocates, and activists.

Suspension and expulsion are disproportionately used against black students, other colored students, and people with disabilities, according to the US Department of Education. These sentences, along with arrests at school, often result in students having criminal records, according to the NAACP. The trend is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

Julie McConnell, a UR law professor, said the origins of the school-prison pipeline go back decades. McConnell is the director of the university’s Children’s Defense Clinic, a program in which law students represent children in need in court.

The school-to-jail pipeline has been a problem for many years, but it began to take off in the 1990s during the “superpredator era” after incidents like the Columbine High School shooting occurred, McConnell said. The superpredator theory revolved around the fear that there would be a wave of violent children threatening communities and schools. The theory has popularized strict zero-tolerance policies in schools.

“We would automatically suspend and evict children who got into trouble at school for very minor offenses in many cases,” McConnell said.

She was referring to a 2015 incident in South Carolina when a school resource officer accused the school a student through a classroom after refusing to hand over her cell phone.

Zero tolerance guidelines mandate predetermined penalties for certain school crimes, including possession of a gun, alcohol, or drugs Shared justice. Minor offenses, often punishable by suspension or expulsion, include disorderly behavior and insubordination.

McConnell and other speakers discussed how punitive measures often put students in custody, as some crimes that were previously dealt with in schools are now being dealt with in juvenile courts. McConnell said the suspension of minors leads to higher rates of school dropouts, mental health problems, crime and substance abuse.

Virginia lawmakers worked return the punishment to the schools. Senator Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, endorsed two measures approved by the Virginia General Assembly last year. students cannot be calculated with disorderly behavior during school, on buses or at school-sponsored events. principal no longer have Reporting actions by students that constitute a criminal offense against law enforcement, such as: B. An attack on school assets, including a bus or a school sponsored event.

Valerie Slater, executive director of the RISE for Youth Coalition, said there are disproportionate rates of suspension in Virginia. RISE for Youth is a campaign to dismantle the youth prison model.

Black teens ages 15-17 made up 21% of the state’s total population in the 2016-2017 school year, but they made up 57% of youth suspended nationwide, according to a 2019 Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and RISE for Youth report. According to the same report, black teenagers made up 49% of Virginia minors reported by school authorities in juvenile justice and 54% of minors incarcerated in local prisons.

The country’s history of racist bias and discriminatory practices has made the school-to-prison pipeline possible, spokesmen said.

One panel looked at Richmond’s history of segregated housing trends, such as the illegal practice of redlining. That is when creditworthy applicants are denied home loan based on the Applicant race or neighborhood they lived in. As a result, white students focused on wealthier suburbs and black students focused on disadvantaged urban centers, said panelist Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, associate professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We can easily spot the traces of this story by assigning students to schools,” said panelist Kathy Mendes, a research fellow at the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

According to Mendes, colored children from areas with limited resources often attend schools with insufficient resources.

Panelist Rachael Deane, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren program, said the color communities are “incredibly over-police.” According to Deane, community police force will be transferred to schools in these areas, putting children of color under constant surveillance by school officials.

Police officers say that strong policing in schools is not effective in preventing juvenile delinquency. Zero tolerance guidelines do not take into account the mental well-being of disadvantaged children. Children with behavioral problems can be exposed to external stressors such as high neighborhood crime rates, domestic violence, and extreme poverty.

“If you’ve never addressed the question of why a student fought, then all you do is postpone another fight after you suspend it,” said Rodney Robinson, winner of the 2019 National Teacher of the Year award “. Robinson is a 19-year-old teaching veteran from Richmond Public Schools.

Schools need to replace school officials with mental health counselors and teach students how to deal with trauma rather than evicting them from schools, Robinson said.

Robinson said he witnessed the severity of the school-prison pipeline problem while teaching convicted youth at the Virgie Binford Education Center. He said there was a need for reformative school programs.

“For me, it wasn’t about the school-to-prison pipeline, it was a school-to-cemetery pipeline,” Robinson said. “Because if you abandon these children and they fail to graduate and end up in such dire conditions, they will eventually become victims of street violence.”

The prejudice of educators against color students needs to be removed, Robinson said. He said teachers should understand how their privilege can affect student perspectives.

Valerie L’Herrou, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said she was “hopeful” about recent protests against racial justice. L’Herrou said the protests showed that more people are open to reviewing their privilege and role in maintaining racist structures.

Siegel-Hawley and other speakers suggested changing the school rededication criteria to completely separate the Richmond communities.

Slater encouraged leaders to focus on the “roots” of the “symptoms” of the school-prison pipeline and develop programs for the permanent rehabilitation of children and communities.

Education funding needs to be evenly distributed across the Commonwealth, Slater said. She also suggested expanding the definition of school officials to include other forms of support such as credible messengers. Credible messengers are people who have gone through the justice system, changed their lives and provided preventive support to vulnerable youths Youth Rehabilitation Services Department.

“It’s time for a paradigm shift in Virginia,” said Slater. “It is time to realize that a healthy, thriving community is the greatest deterrent to judicial involvement.”

The Capital News Service is a program offered by the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. The students on the program report on a variety of media in Virginia.