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.’

Turning the tables where the primary stakeholders—students­—grade their schools and offer constructive solutions should be the norm in every school district. This is one key argument for extending voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds for School Board candidates.