What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘school-to-prison-pipeline?’ Education, teachers, the justice system or America? Some could probably guess as to what it is, but many people don’t know the denotation of the phrase, never mind how it affects students in our district.
The term school-to-prison-pipeline was coined in the 1990s when “zero tolerance” was beginning to be a part of the chain that led students of color into jail or prison. This idea refers to practices like a zero tolerance for fighting, zero tolerance for insubordi- nation or zero tolerance for vandalism.
This practice creates policies that push students of color specifically into the juvenile justice system. When students were found guilty of infractions like these, they were automatically suspended. Typically, black students were suspended for more non provable offenses like insubordination, while white students would only be suspended for probable offenses.
This became a nation-wide issue, and over the past years, different schools have begun to create new policies to reverse the problem. Some schools are taking away zero tolerance and putting in restorative justice practices some schools are creating equity teams, and students are beginning to create clubs and organizations to help solve the issue.
Restorative justice is a form of talking about a conflict or incident with all the parties involved in order to discuss why the event happened and how to prevent it in the future.
Mintzy Paige, chair of the Equity Team at Carrboro High, believes that restorative justice can be a good practice if the moderator leads the session well.
In Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools, the term ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ has been used more often in the past five years. According to the Daily Tar Heel, in the 2015-2016 school year, black students were ten times more likely to get suspend- ed than white students for short-term suspensions. Following these alarmingly-high numbers, people across the boards started
to address the root of the issue, especially as the numbers continue to grow.
One of the main groups that is beginning to play a larger role and get more attention is the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). This group is a national organization formed in districts with high achievement gaps to create coalitions of students who work to eliminate racial disparities in their districts. Within CHCCS, Lorie Clark and Sheldon Lanier serve as advisors for this organization, which consists of over 20 students. The work of MSAN over past years consisted of trying to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline through restructuring the student code of conduct.
Stephanie Lopez, senior at CHS and member of MSAN, believes that the work of MSAN is transforming the fu- ture for the district.
“Our main goal is to restructure the code of conduct; it’s not fair for students of color to be disproportionately affected. The voice should come from the students,” said Lopez.
Even with all of the groups, teams and organizations, there is still a lot of work to be done. This includes starting with the education of others about what the pipeline is and whom it effects. A decrease in the school-to-prison pipeline can have positive effects on the achievement gap and the environment of a school.
Illustration by Ryx Zan