Stopping the School-to-Prison Pipeline & the Systemic Criminalization of Male Students of Color
For the first Front Porch Gathering of 2018, the University of Texas Community Engagement Center partnered with My Brother’s Keeper of Austin to bring light to the systemic criminalization of male students of color in central Texas.
The Front Porch Gathering was held at Gus Garcia Middle School with a diverse group of stakeholders in attendance including, teachers, students, parents, police officers, and community leaders.
The evening opened with a community testimony from Meme Styles, founder of Measure Austin and her 11 year old son, Zion. Meme detailed how last year her son was almost criminally charged with assault at his school when a classmate who he was joking with, fell out of her chair and bumped her head. Meme’s advocacy for her son resulted in the charges being dropped, but her nephew, at the same school was charged with assault later that month.
These events are a part of a larger pattern in which school disciplinary matters are being funneled through the criminal justice system and which disproportionately affect male students of color. Male students of color are being suspended, both in and out of schools, and disciplined at a higher rate than their white counterparts.
The time spent outside of instruction due to suspensions, has resulted in students who are academically behind their peers, often by multiple grade levels once they reach high school. This academic lag is one that a student struggles to recover from. Once a student is behind, he or she is disqualified from advanced classes which often give college credit, and is instead tracked into remedial classes.
Furthermore, when school disciplinary issues are funneled through the criminal system, students have to contend with having a criminal record before the age of 18, a factor that studies have shown makes a person more likely to be imprisoned as an adult.
In other words, disproportionate disciplinary practices directly remove a student from the path to college, and onto another path that often leads to higher dropout rates and at its worst, prison sentences.
These events spurred Styles to advocate for her son, and children of color who are disproportionately criminalized. She founded Measure Austin, a community organization that uses data driven research to hold the Austin Police department accountable. Styles concluded by imploring the attendees to gather as many tools and connections from the dialogue as possible, stating that it was up to us, the community, to advocate for our children.
After Styles and her son shared their personal stories, Dr. Grady, associate director of the Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center at Prairie View A&M, and Dr. Leonard Moore, MBK Austin chair and Vice President the interim Vice President for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin help set the context for the conversation and interactive strategy session planned for the evening.
Dr. Grady remarks specifically spoke to parents. She thanked them for attending the Gathering, and explained how the parent-child relationship is essential to breaking the school-to-prison pipeline. She used the Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center programs with Precinct 1 in Travis County as an example, explaining that many parents did not know how to listen but also be firm with their children. The center provides workshops for parents so that they can be a part of the solution.
Dr. Moore reminded the attendees to “check titles at the door.” He shared that everyone brings lived experiences and knowledge to this discussion, and that even though in their daily lives one attendee may be a student and the other a principal, true dialogue meant listening to one another regardless of perspective in order to identify problems, resources, and interventions.
The assembled community members dispersed into six break-out groups where they participated in a solution-oriented dialogue on the school-to-prison pipeline. The goal of the dialogue was to use the lived experiences of the participants to understand the current context of the criminalization of black and latino youth, identify resources available to parents and students, and come up with solutions as a community committed to stopping these systemic practices.
As such, participants shared their experiences within the school-to-prison pipeline and its effects, including:
- Using disciplinary procedures such as suspension to get students out of the classroom instead of addressing the root of the problem and the students’ emotional well-being.
- Lower graduation rates and lagging academic progress due to time spent out of the classroom
- Lack of instruction and isolation in in-school suspension, which exacerbates poor academic standing and emotional trauma
- Watering down of expectations for students of color
However, by far, the emphasis was on solutions, and attendees generated a large list of solutions detailed below:
- Community meetings and dialogues to discuss the effects of racism and bias on students and communities
- Working to improve mental health resources access and use in the black community
- Community members should volunteer in school to support students
- Attend board meetings and advocate to end the school-to-prison pipeline
Teacher and administrator-oriented solutions
- Strengthen relationships between the student, parents, community and the school . For example, administrators should greet students at the door, and hold more parent engagement events.
- Create community and safe spaces within classrooms, especially for students of color to support students’ emotional well-being
- Increase diversity in staff (gender, race) and recruit teachers of color
- Better professional development for teachers to support teachers and hold them accountable
- Culturally responsive teacher training
- Implement bias/ institutional racism training so that teachers can speak about these issues with their students
- More experienced teachers
- Have teachers role play being the student to help teachers understand where kids are coming from
- Alternative forms of discipline should be used and to reduce suspensions. If suspensions must be used, students should receive in-school suspension with instruction.
- Restorative circles in schools so that that students are included in discussing the solution.
- Track which teachers are suspending for accountability
- Warning system should be used instead of immediate police call
- Decriminalize low level offenses and seal juvenile records
- Eliminate for profit prisons
- Removal of police officers on campus, and increase counselors on campus
- Make FAFSA easier to complete
- Translation into other languages so parents have more access
- Parent courses on finance
- Create an organized way for parents to advocate for their children within school districts
- Helping parents understand/ finding the time to educate
- Focus on early literacy
- Peer support for struggling students
- Nutrition education
- More resources to students
- Mental health resources
- Student led-learning
- Wellness services
- Mentorship programs with entrepreneur aspects
- Monthly panel with problems and solutions
- Make students know the system is historically unjust. But that they control the narrative
- Know your history
- The present is a product of the past
- Create more cultural competency- Ethnic and identity studies
- Increase physical activities
- Implement Social Emotional Learning programs
- Building empathy into curriculum
The Front Porch Gathering ended with closing remarks from Dr. Grady who spoke about her childhood community. She explained that when she and her classmates were walking home, they would pass by their neighbors who always seemed to be out and about at that hour and would greet the children as they passed. As a child, she assumed they were nosy neighbors, but now, as an adult she realizes that they were outside for the specific purpose of watching to make sure that the children made it home safely. Dr. Grady remarked that that night’s Front Porch Gathering reminded her of that time, and that we should all remember, that we are all responsible for our community and its children.
Continued Engagement and Additional Resources in Austin:
- Youth Justice Workgroup
- Meets on the 3rd Friday of every month
- Meeting of youth, parents, administrators, teachers, school-to-prison pipeline and juvenile justice advocates, and youth-serving organizations whose goal is to research and make recommendations to the City Council about ways to support youth in Austin without criminalizing them or pushing them into the school-to-prison pipeline
- Groups has additional meetings for the youth members
- Interested youth (or parents, teachers, counselors, advocates, etc.) should contact Rocio Villalobos (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and to RSVP.
- The Excellence and Advancement Foundation
- Hosts events and has a resource center at Huston-Tillotson University that is available for families who need help with school-to-prison issues or who are returning to school from a placement in a juvenile justice facility.
- People can email email@example.com or visit breakthepipeline.org for info about EAF’s regular programs and special events:
- April 14th: Youth Summit: Students are organizing this event. Tickets can be found here.
- Youth Justice Workgroup
- Educating the community