March 18 — 8:42 am, 2019

Fight the school-to-prison pipeline

"Students are not feeling welcome or safe with officers at their schools. With more counselors, we would feel safe and have somebody to talk to about our problems."

Deiveian Story

img 1178 Photo: Harvey Finkle

Someone who I’m close to consistently received good grades in school. That is, until 3rd grade, when his teacher told him that he was either going to be dead or in jail by the age of 18. From there, everything went downhill.

The teacher wouldn’t help him or even teach him. He heard things from teachers that children shouldn’t hear. This caused him to stop caring about his schoolwork and his grades. He started disrupting the class. He was sent to see a psychiatrist, who said he had a “learning disorder.”

He bought into the fact that there was something wrong with him, even though there wasn’t. Eventually, he went to prison at the age of 20, with a two- to five-year state sentence and three-year state parole.

This is an example of the school-to-prison pipeline, which is the most important civil rights challenge that our nation faces. The school-to-prison pipeline is when schools treat students the way that prison treats prisoners. In some cases, students can get sent to jail or prison for getting in trouble at school.

Schools that are most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline are overcrowded and underfunded. Often they are crowded with poor black students who are over-age for their grade.

Schools are treating teens as if they committed crimes. The school I go to doesn’t have metal detectors, which makes me feel comfortable. When I went to another high school for an interview, it had metal detectors, which confused me. I wasn’t used to taking all my things off, and putting them in the box made me uncomfortable. I really didn’t want to do it, because I felt like this shouldn’t happen in a school. This is the kind of thing that happens at the airport.

I don’t think it’s right to force students to walk through a metal detector and take their things without permission. Not only is it disrespectful, but it also shows the student that he or she isn’t safe and can’t be trusted. It makes students feel like they are criminals and unwelcome.

Over the last couple of decades, the number of school officers has increased. Schools are hiring more officers than counselors. At the end of the day, students are not feeling welcome or safe with officers at their schools. With more counselors, we would feel safe and have somebody to talk to about our problems.

Officers aren’t there to sit and talk to students; they are there to protect students and to lock up children.

Schools funnel students into the school-to-prison pipeline by using zero-tolerance disciplinary policies. Under these policies, strict punishments are given for any infraction of a stated rule.

For example, under a zero-tolerance policy, if a student knocks over a trash can, he or she might get suspended or expelled from school. However, a student should not get punished for knocking over a trash can. Instead, a teacher or counselor should have a conversation with the student to see what’s wrong and help figure out why they did it.

In a column titled “The Growing Problem of Over-Policing Our Schools,” Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman wrote: “Students are learning that many school disciplinary incidents, including the kind that used to end with a trip to the principal’s office, can now lead to an arrest.”

When students get arrested in school for something they should be getting sent to the principal’s office for, that can make the students not want to go to school. They might even be afraid to go to school. If they aren’t coming to school, they can get in trouble out on the streets. And if that happens, they are still going to be sent to prison.

Recently, teachers in Los Angeles went on strike for six days. The reasons included the lack of school nurses, school counselors, and librarians; low pay; and large class sizes. There were 34,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles Union on strike to fight for these additions to their schools.

Their voices were heard. The Los Angeles Unified School District reached an agreement with the union to limit class sizes; add 300 nurses, 77 counselors, and 82 librarians; and provide a 6 percent raise for teachers.

I feel like more school districts should go on strike for fewer officers and more counselors everywhere in the United States. This would decrease school-related arrests.

Additionally, we should have restorative justice systems in all schools. The restorative system would help students with their in-school and out-of-school issues, would establish disciplinary policies that would not set students up for failure, and would be a form of rehabilitation. In order to do this, we should have caring counselors and caring staff that we can trust enough to go to for help for in-school and out-of-school issues.

Instead of getting suspended or expelled, students could do things to help repair harm and better themselves as people and students. For example, if a student interrupts the class, he or she would usually get sent to the office or suspended. While the student is in the office or suspended, he or she is not learning anything or getting any work done. So, the restorative thing would be to have the student teach the class or write an essay on what the teacher was teaching at the time. This way, the student would not only be punished, but also would be learning.

Having fewer officers, more counselors, and a restorative system would help build a better community. This would provide better opportunities for students by helping them get another chance, rather than getting funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Deiveian Story is a 10th grader at the Workshop School.

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