Saturday, January 19, 2013

Extreme student discipline practices

The extreme student discipline practices that led the Department of Justice to sue one Mississippi county are far more widespread than previously thought, cites a new report from a coalition of civil rights organizations.

Titled Handcuffs on Success: The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools, the report details how extreme school disciplinary practices harm tens of thousands of Mississippi students who are removed from school every year for minor misbehaviors, such as violating dress codes and mouthing off to teachers. Many are also criminalized in the process. It also shows how this approach likewise harms teachers, law enforcement officials, community members at large, and the state’s economy.

In October 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against officials in Meridian, Mississippi for operating a school-to-prison pipeline. Through a pattern of arresting and incarcerating students, even for minor school infractions, investigators found that Meridian children were routinely pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system. The report finds that the scope of this devastating problem is much bigger, plaguing schools across the entire state of Mississippi.

Authored by Advancement Project, ACLU of Mississippi, Mississippi State Conference of NAACP, and Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse, the report highlights numerous cases from across the state. In Holmes County, for example, a five-year-old child was driven away from school in a sheriff’s car for wearing shoes with red and white symbols, in violation of a dress code. Police reportedly arrested and threatened bodily harm to a half dozen DeSoto County students for arguing on a school bus. Other findings include:

* Mississippi’s graduation rate is the 6th lowest among the 50 states, a distinction that is tied to high rates of suspension, expulsion and arrests. Across the state, the districts with the highest number of out-of-school suspensions, have the lowest metrics of academic success.

* Overly harsh discipline policies can trigger a cycle of crime. Young people who are removed from school are less likely to have adult supervision and more likely to drop out – factors that have been shown to increase the chances of future misbehavior by youth.

* From 1990 to 2007, Mississippi’s penal system expanded by 166%, and the State’s correction costs have increased by well over $100 million a year in the last decade.

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