Arresting the School-to-Prison Pipeline

From Chicago to Denver, students persist in trying to change the punitive school discipline policies. Alexandria United Teens (AUT) has been collaborating for several years with the Advancement Project, Critical Exposure, Tenants and Workers United plus other advocacy organizations to demand funds for restorative practices in this northern Virginia district. So often school climate experts and superintendents dominate this debate but decision makers need to seek out students who have firsthand knowledge of what’s happening in the classrooms and hallways.

AUT students Brooke Wilson and Cynthia Boateng write in EBONY magazine:

“Our school population is evenly divided among Latinos, African Americans and Whites. Yet students of color–students like us–are pushed out of school through suspensions and expulsions at disproportionately higher rates than our White counterparts, often for things as minor as taking a cookie off of a cafeteria table, or wearing what some deem provocative clothing.”

These anecdotes are backed up with solid data in a comprehensive report that is highlighted by AUT students in a 2-minute video titled Restorative Justice Now.

Specific proposals made repeatedly by AUT to the Superintendent and the Board of Education are outlined on page 13 of A Community Review of Alexandria City Public Schools Implementation of Restorative Justice, including:

  • train 20-30 students to become circle-keepers;
  • designate class periods when circles will be held;
  • train every classroom teacher on relationship-building and harm circles;
  • train every administrator on harm circles.

Salem Meskin of AUT and a T.C. Williams High School senior, who is pictured here about to testify before her School Board, expressed frustration: “The district has promised to implement a set of restorative practices, and to date and they have only marginally begun the work needed to make real change.” This explains why AUT issued a report card with an ‘F.’

UPDATE:  Divine Nzita, T. C. Williams junior, says 

“You can really see it in the classrooms. You really do see it when you go to school.                   It’s a safe environment. You can feel the change.” 

Michelle Marfo, a senior and part of the first class to go through all four years of high school with restorative practices, said she hoped to return to Alexandria in a few years to find the program implemented throughout the school system.  

Maximizing “Student Voice”


Too often the mantra ‘Student Voice’ falls on deaf ears. Certainly, the views by some students do get heard. Student representatives–elected by their high school peers–who serve on their School Boards tend to earn respect from their adult counterparts. A genuine collegiality can thrive. If student reps make waves, their influence on the Board can take a dive.

Only a few school boards in the country give student reps voting power. This advisory role further undermines real clout. Another criticism is the burden on one or two full-time high school students to represent the entire student population.

Is there a way to democratize the decision-making process that spans from school budgets, testing to discipline and other rules? Imagine if the primary stakeholders had the opportunity to weigh in on the critical decisions that affect them five days a week.

Surprise! Some school board members believe that students should join adults (many of whom went to school decades ago) in electing school board candidates rather than only their student rep. The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of extending voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds. This ballot measure, which included lowering the voting age for Mayor and the County Board of Supervisors, lost but not by a large margin. In neighboring Berkeley, the School Board members shared the same belief that education policy making would be better informed with this expanded constituency. A whopping 70% of adult voters agreed and in the next election, all students age 16 and up will have this opportunity.

Here are a few links for more information about this controversial proposal.

Do you think ‘Student Voice’ will have real meaning and influence if students also can vote? Yea or Nay?