By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
The U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation and lawsuit into what it has characterized as a school to prison pipeline is just one part of a movement to change discipline policies in Meridian and schools throughout the state.
Advocacy groups such as ACLU Mississippi, the Mississippi NAACP, the Advancement Project, and One Voice, have completed a report called “Handcuffs on Success — The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools. Officials representing some of those organizations met with Meridian NAACP branch members and the public on Thursday to reveal the results of the report and to give parents the opportunity to tell their stories of experiences of their children in the Meridian Public School District.
Randle Jennings, education chairman of the Meridian branch of the NAACP, told the audience that the allegations of extreme discipline are serious.
“To actually be accused of running a schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline is a damaging situation for any community, especially a community of a small size that wants to grow because the growth of any community is what? Our children,” Jennings said.
Scott Roberts of the Advancement Project, outlined how across the country, discipline policies have fed the school to prison pipeline.
It started, he said, with zero tolerance policies of the 1980s and grew worse after the spread of school shootings, particularly in Columbine, Col., in the 1990s. Charges such as disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct can have broad interpretations, he said, and send children to jail unnecessarily.
The definition of a school to prison pipeline, Roberts said, is “Policies and practices that are directly and indirectly pushing students out of school and on a pathway to prison.”
Among discoveries, according to the “Handcuffs on Success” report, are that for every one white student in Meridian who gets punished with out of school suspension, there are five black students who are given out of school suspension.
“We can’t sit back and say, ‘The Department of Justice is here, they are going to solve all our problems for us so we don’t have to do anything else,” said Nsombi Lambright, of One Voice. “We know that the work continues and it’s going to take young people being courageous and continuing to come home and tell the story. It’s going to take parents being engaged in the education process to let our young people know what their rights are. We want them to know that we want them in school and educated properly so that they can be our next generation of leaders and know that they can be.”
Roberts said communities need to examine the root causes of racial disparities in school discipline issues.
“There’s no good reason why there are five black students suspended for every one white student,” Roberts said. “We really have to dig in and find out why is this happening in those districts and make a real commitment to ending it.”
Complaints from parents at the meeting Thursday included one woman who said her son is often sent home for minor offenses.
“They don’t want him there,” she said of her son’s teachers. Another woman said that because she lives in a home that is part of the Meridian Housing Authority and she believes her children are looked down on because of it.
“Our children are entitled to the same respect as the children who live in North Hills,” she said.
Another man complained that his young son was recommended for medication that over-medicated him.
The report says that misguided disciplinary measures ultimately harm law enforcement efforts and overall public health and safety, they weaken the economy and are costly to taxpayers.