Prison ‘pipeline’ still full

The following is a letter to the editor to the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer written by SARN Board Chair Theresa El-Amin.

The February 16 piece by Mark Rice on suspensions received the attention it deserves — Sunday, front page.

I first requested the out-of-school suspension data in May 2011 after seeing young, black men frequently on the front page of the L-E charged with serious crimes. I was given over 330 pages of records. After going through the sheets, I realized there was a sheet for every grade in every school. The disaggregated data (race, gender, etc.) also showed the 28 reasons a student could be suspended. The list included everything from the use of alcohol to homicide as well as sexual assault, sexual battery and other crimes. The list struck me as a form that might be used by law enforcement rather than a school. Yes, fighting was on the list, too.

However, many students were suspended under a category called “other.” After a few conversations with parents, I learned that “other” could mean the boy didn’t wear his belt or he was “talking back” or otherwise “acting a fool.” The school-to-prison pipeline was never clearer.

Durham Public Schools is a similar district to MCSD. The student population is about 30,000 and about 60% black. A few years ago, black males were about 80% of suspensions. During that time, one child had been suspended 27 times in a single school year. The struggle continues.

I dream of the day when parents, teachers, principals and assistant principals will function as a team to help children understand their legal right to an education and the shared responsibility to make it happen.

An out-of school suspension is “a failure to communicate.” Cultural competency seminars might help teachers and principals recognize the internalized oppression of black males growing up in poverty. That includes disciplinarians who look like the students suspended the most.

Theresa El-Amin