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A public workshop on March 20, Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline, will explore the terrible cost paid by the nation’s youth who drop out of school and become ensnared in the juvenile justice system. The workshop will also identify areas of improvement and partnership needed to support the educational success of all students. Parents, young adults, local school district or community teams are encouraged to attend, as are teachers, counselors, behavioral health professionals, law enforcement, and administrators.
The issues surrounding the school-to-prison phenomenon are complex and systematic, according to Diane Ortiz, executive director of Youth Alliance. She told BenitoLink it’s a national problem where suspensions and expulsions are higher for youth of color and those with disabilities, and that the problem is not only systemic, but structural.
“There are certain policies and practices at the school site level, the district, and in our community that exacerbate those results,” Ortiz said, adding that schools continue to face challenges while being underfunded.”
Schools will effectively address the problem for a time, but then a new principal takes over or leadership in a program changes and the problem flares up again, Ortiz said.
“In their minds they’re setting the bar high, they’re practicing zero tolerance, but what that does is increase the likelihood of these students dropping out of school and ending up in the justice system,” she said. “Underfunded special education is a critical problem.”
Ortiz said that in San Benito County, the community has extremely vulnerable school districts that are dealing with a high number of kids with special needs.
In an effort to work together toward solutions, Youth Alliance has joined with the San Benito County Office of Education for the March 20 workshop to help stakeholders understand the county’s own school-to-prison pipeline.
“The idea is to allow collaborative teams to hear about what we’re doing well and what are some of the gaps,” San Benito County Superintendent of Schools Krystal Lomanto said. “It’s not just about schools. This is about community agencies, too. This allows me to hear about the gaps on the education side and [decide] how, as county superintendent, to address the gaps and how do we strategize the best course to move forward to support our districts, teachers, staff and families.”
The workshop will feature Tia Martinez, consultant and member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign strategy team. A report by Martinez describes several factors that led to California incarcerating 11,532 youths, the highest in the nation. These include:
- Unfair, subjective, and zero tolerance discipline practices in which students are regularly suspended, expelled, and in some instances arrested on campus by School Resource Officers (SROs). Campuses with SROs can saddle students with a legal record whereas campuses without them do not.
- After being expelled, students lose access to classroom instruction, often resulting in them becoming disengaged from school.
- In mostly communities of color, students not attending school or left unsupervised in public spaces are often targeted by law enforcement.
- Expelled or suspended students with exposure to police increases the probability of arrest; they are three times more likely to come in contact with the juvenile justice system and detention.
- When placed in juvenile detention, youth will most likely drop out of school.
- After dropping out of school, youth are 22 percent more likely to end up in prison.
According to Ortiz, what has changed, particularly in California, is the investment in mass incarceration, being tough on crime and the war on drugs. She said there is a direct correlation between school suspensions and the number of incarcerations.
The cost to incarcerate one prisoner in 2018 was $81,203, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, compared to $9,418 spent per student in the state’s public schools, according to Education Week.
“There’s been this push on school safety being ‘just get them out,’ which [began] at the same as time as the No Child Left Behind Act, in which there was an incentive to make sure the scores were high because they [would] get more money,” Ortiz said. She said teachers are stuck with the choice of dealing with a habitually disruptive kid and sacrificing the rest of the students in the classroom, or telling the kid to sit outside or sending them to the office to be dealt with.
Superintendent Lomanto said that over the last two and half years she has heard from local school districts about increases in student mental health issues that are the result of trauma. The issue, she said, is determining how to support the districts in dealing with traumatized students, regardless of whether they’re receiving general education or special education. To this end, she said the district has conducted trauma workshops like the one planned for March 20.
Ortiz gave an example of how even young students can start heading down the wrong path.
“We worked with a middle school kid who got in trouble and sat outside all the time,” she said. “He couldn’t read. He was illiterate and became disruptive.”
Lomanto said while school boards of the various districts determine overall policy, how to respond to a habitually disruptive student is a decision left to each school principal.
“The way you mitigate [disruptive behavior] is by creating strong relationships with those students,” Ward said. “It’s about the relationships they have with adults on campus.”
Because the primary goal is student achievement, Ward said the conversation can’t even begin until the foundation of classroom management is in place.
Ortiz said disruptive issues are apparent as early as kindergarten, if not preschool.
“The problem is so pervasive, legislation was enacted in 2017 to prevent expulsions from state-subsidized preschool programs,” she said. “In collaboration with the school district, the hope is to institute a countywide policy focusing on restorative practice that would not only show there is an emphasis on the kids and supporting educators, but reframing how schools respond to children.”
The joint San Benito County Office of Education and Youth Alliance School to Prison Pipeline workshop is March 20 from 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Paine’s Restaurant in Hollister.
To register for this workshop, go to https://sanbenito.k12oms.org/ and use the calendar function to find the workshop link. $55 per ticket, with financial help available for those who need it. For inquiries, contact Eddy Navarro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, call Monica Barragan at (831) 637-5393 ext. 126 or email email@example.com.
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