President Barack Obama’s administration criticizes zero-tolerance policies, which often turn schoolchildren into criminals, according to Susan Du of The Chicago Bureau.
The White House acknowledges that the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline,” the term used by the American Civil Liberties Union to explain the connection between expelled schoolchildren and high juvenile incarceration rates, is real.
“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a report by The Dallas Morning News. Zero-tolerance policies became popular following the Columbine school shooting in 1999. Such policies “spell out uniform and swift punishment for offenses such as truancy, smoking or carrying a weapon.”
“A routine school disciplinary infraction
should land a student in the
principal’s office, not in a police precinct”
The Chicago Bureau reported that zero-tolerance policies are applied to black and Hispanic students more than to white students, even though U.S. Department of Education statistics show both groups are breaking the rules at an equal rate. The disparity is greater in school districts where African-American and Hispanic children make up a fraction of the student body.
New York City provides an example of the disparate treatment of African-Americans, who make up about one-third of the student population, according to Mychal Denzel Smith of Nation magazine. Nation cites Molly Knefel of Rolling Stone magazine, who revealed that during Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, half of the students suspended were African-American.
Recommendations by the Obama administration are meant to encourage school districts throughout the country to end racially disproportionate practices that criminalize the behavior of minorities. The Dallas Morning News reports that the administration will work out “voluntary settlements” when federal civil rights of children in schools are violated.
Daniel Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association in Texas, called out-of-school suspensions “outdated” in the 21st century, according to The Dallas Morning News. However, there has been little to no federal funding for alternative solutions to juvenile delinquency, such as restorative justice measures, the report finds.
Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA, a non-profit Chicago-based organization working to minimize juvenile exposure to the criminal justice system, is working to replace zero-tolerance policies with restorative justice solutions in the Chicago Public School District, The Chicago Bureau reports.
Kaba discussed creating “peace rooms” for children in the schools to resolve conflict and disciplinary problems rather than arresting and charging them. Kaba trains teachers and school administrators to operate “peace circles” for students as a way to reverse the “school-to-prison pipeline” effect.
Kaba told The Chicago Bureau that the response by the administration to zero-tolerance policies has “validated” their work and advocacy.