The "school-to-prison pipeline" is a troubling national trend where children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. It starts when kids are pushed out of the classroom, typically for nonviolent offenses, effectively reducing valuable learning time, and making it harder for struggling students to keep up. With increased police presence in schools student challenges or disputes are turned over to police instead of being addressed by school staff and administrators. This sends too many students, who would be better served by social workers and a range of evidenced based supports, spiraling into a juvenile and criminal justice system that follows them into their adult lives.
Kalyb Wiley-Primm is a smart, soft-spoken kid from Kansas City who likes science and robotics.
But one day in second grade, some bullies started taunting Kalyb. He began to cry and yell, "I didn’t do anything to you!’' A school security officer found Kalyb crying and screaming in the classroom, he asked Kalyb to come with him. Out in the hallway, Kalyb, still crying, refused to follow the officer. The officer then handcuffed the 50-pound, four-foot boy and marched him to the principal’s office. Can you imagine your seven-year-old being handcuffed after being bullied!
Best practices for improving school climate and discipline are being used as alternatives all across the country. Parents and communities are advocating for social and emotional learning programs, restorative justice practices, and school wide positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Many of these tools equip teachers and students with the tools to build positive school environments and to prevent and respond to conflict in ways that address students’ social, emotional, and academic needs. Use of these interventions can reduce suspensions by up to 50%, improve school climate, increase teacher effectiveness, and support better educational outcomes for all students. Research also shows that relationships between students, parents, and staff are more important in making a school safe than increased security measures.
We know what works! Now we need Congress to listen. It is time to shift this practice of investing in the criminal justice system instead of schools and supports for students.