DOJ: District operates ‘school to prison’ pipeline

Interesting Associated Press story that appeared on The Huffington Post:

Officials in east Mississippi operate a “school-to-prison pipeline” that incarcerates students for disciplinary infractions as minor as dress code violations with a policy that affects mostly black and disabled children, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday.

The Justice Department said police in the city of Meridian routinely arrest public school students without determining if there’s probable cause when the school wants to press charges for a violation. Federal authorities say the students are then denied due process in youth court and on probation. The Justice Department did not outline specific allegations of wrongdoing against the school district in a letter to state and local authorities. Instead, it appears from the letter that the problems begin once a student is arrested.

Once arrested, the youth court puts the students on probation, sometimes without proper legal representation, according to the letter. If the students are on probation, future school violations could be considered a probation violation that requires them “to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center,” the department said.

That means if a student is on probation and then gets suspended for a minor infraction like “dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect,” the student could have to serve that suspension in the detention center.

“The students most severely affected by these practices are black children and children with disabilities in Meridian,” the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department made the allegations in a letter to Mississippi’s governor, attorney general and various officials in Meridian and Lauderdale County.

These entities, working in conjunction, help to operate a school-to-prison pipeline that routinely and repeatedly incarcerates children for school disciplinary infractions,” the letter said.

Not really surprising, to be honest. There have been several studies done that highlight this apparent discrepancy (here and here are just a couple of examples). The New York Times had more insight from a recent study released by the U.S. Department of Education:

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.

One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”

The department began gathering data on civil rights and education in 1968, but the project was suspended by the Bush administration in 2006. It has been reinstated and expanded to examine a broader range of information, including, for the first time, referrals to law enforcement, an area of increasing concern to civil rights advocates who see the emergence of a school-to-prison pipeline for a growing number of students of color.

According to the schools’ reports, over 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.

Black and Hispanic students — particularly those with disabilities — are also disproportionately subject to seclusion or restraints. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student body, but 70 percent of those subject to physical restraints. Black students with disabilities constituted 21 percent of the total, but 44 percent of those with disabilities subject to mechanical restraints, like being strapped down. And while Hispanics made up 21 percent of the students without disabilities, they accounted for 42 percent of those without disabilities who were placed in seclusion.

It’s no secret that this could be a contributing factor in what Michelle Alexander coined the New Jim Crow. Thoughts?

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