Meridian Star

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February 27, 2013

School to prison pipeline meeting set

MERIDIAN —     What some have called a school to prison pipeline in Meridian and throughout the state will be discussed at a public meeting later this week.

    The Meridian-Lauderdale Branch of the NAACP will host a community meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m. at First Union Missionary Baptist Church,  610, 38th Ave., in Meridian.

    The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss a new report released by the NAACP, ACLU and Advancement Project called, Handcuffs To Success:  Extreme Disciplinary Practices in Mississippi Schools.

    Members of the community are invited to attend and learn about the report findings, share concerns about practices in Meridian and learn ways to protect the rights of students.

    Randle Jennings, local NAACP education chairman, said the meeting is more of an informative update.

    "Our biggest concern right now is a followup to what the original pipeline investigation was all about," Jennings said. "Now that it's been identified, we will have to figure out how to dismantle it."

    Jennings said he fears that there has been irreversible damage done to students who were put through the system and have now become adults.

    "They may be 25 or 30 years old now," Jennings said. "They may be scarred."

    Jennings said the community must get involved and work for alternative disciplinary methods.

    "Let's stop pointing fingers and get the next generation ready for a better avenue from the community and the schools," Jennings said. "I've always said that communities and schools go hand in hand."

    The U.S. Justice Department filed suit in October against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, judges of the Lauderdale County Youth Court and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services, alleging that they violate the due process rights of juveniles.

    DOJ has said children have been suspended for offenses as minor as defiance.

    "Furthermore, children on probation are routinely arrested and incarcerated for allegedly violating their probation by committing minor school infractions, such as dress code violations, which result in suspensions," the DOJ said. "The department’s investigation showed that students most affected by this system are African-American children and children with disabilities."

    It's not just in Meridian, according to officials who investigated the matter. A more recent report from a coalition of civil rights violations shows that "extreme student discipline practices" that led to the lawsuit are far more widespread than previously thought.

    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 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, according to reports.

    Police reportedly arrested and threatened bodily harm to a half dozen DeSoto County students for arguing on a school bus.

    Child advocacy groups believe that 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," the report said.

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