Over-policed and Under-Educated: The School to Prison Pipeline from Multiple Perspectives

Over-Policed & Under-Educated: The School to Prison Pipeline from Multiple Perspectives. A panel on the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, Kenny v. Wilson, which challenges South Carolina's vague and far-reaching "disturbing schools" law. Featuring Niya Kenny, Lead Plaintiff; Dennis Parker, ACLU Racial Justice Program Director; Sarah Hinger, ACLU Staff Attorney; Vivian Anderson, Every Black Girl, Inc.  March 7, 2017 11am-1pm Furculo Room 101 UMass Amherst
Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - 11:00am

The Center for Youth Engagement at the College of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst is kicking off its digital footprint with this event TOMORROW in Furcolo Hall, Room 101. 

On Twitter we are @C4YEngagement and on FB: https://www.facebook.com/Center4YouthEngagement/

Policing in Schools and the Infringement of Civil Rights: Discipline Practices Reflect Societal Issues

Still images from Kenny's video of Officer Fields assaulting another student in her classroom as a disciplinary measure for noncompliance.

The Panel features Niya Kenny, who created a national conversation about racial injustice and the School to Prison Pipeline when she was arrested for confronting a school resource officer who inappropriately assaulted a classmate; Dennis Parker, who oversees work to combat the “School-to- Prison” pipeline as director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program; Sarah Hinger, a Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, where her litigation and policy advocacy focus on race discrimination in education and law enforcement; and Vivian Anderson, a longtime community organizer and advocate, and the founder of Every Black Girl Inc., an organization inspired by situations like Kenny’s and designed to engage young black women of all ages empowerment and awareness.

ACLU's Challenge to South Carolina's "Disturbing Schools" Law: Kenny v. Wilson

Kenny, 19, is a plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, Kenny v. Wilson, which challenges South Carolina’s vague and far-reaching “disturbing schools” law. According to the ACLU, the law and a similar “disorderly conduct” statute facilitate criminal charges against students for ubiquitous adolescent behaviors such as loitering, cursing, or undefined “boisterous’ and “obnoxious” actions on school property. Hundreds of students, some in the early elementary grades, and most of whom are Black, have been criminally charged under the “disturbing schools” law.

The law attempts to silence and punish opposition from students who seek to exercise their civil rights, as Niya Kenny did and continues to do. In October 2015, Kenny filmed as her classmate was dragged from her desk by a school resource officer for having been inattentive and noncompliant in class. Kenny was threatened and arrested by Officer Fields for verbally reacting against his assault, and was suspended from school. Though the Justice Department announced in January that Officer Fields will not face charges, both Kenny and the student that was attacked are being charged with “disturbing schools.”

School to Prison Pipeline: Background Info and Essential Ideas

School policing infringes on civil rights.

  • The equal protection clause of the 14th amendment guarantees that all children in the United States, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, finances, and citizenship status, have the right to attend public school.
  • Many federal, state and local laws additionally protect students from discrimination in education on account of their sexual orientation, disability, and/or health.
  • The policing of school-related behaviors results in situations that erode or violate the established right of all young people in the US to a free and appropriate public education.

School discipline and school police violate a fundamental right to education.

The complex School to Prison Pipeline consists of individual, community, and national-level stories.

  • In the wake of the mass incarceration and war on drugs that characterized the last few decades of US politics, “zero tolerance” policies about youth behaviors have produced the increased criminalization of school-aged youth and the normalization of police officers in schools.
  • This phenomenon, which ties the public education system to the public and for-profit prison system, is referred to as the “School to Prison Pipeline.”
  • Individuals who seek to serve their communities by joining their local police forces only receive about 8 hours learning how to de-escalate situations, whereas they spend 117 learning violence-based tactics, according to the ACLU.

In general, however, school-resource officers (SROs), as the police placed in schools are often called, lack relevant, comprehensive training related to child development, behavior management, and federal civil rights laws related to education.

  • Minority students end up disproportionately targeted by school discipline policies and their enforcement by police.
  • Students who are gendered male, of color, of low socio-economic status, and with disabilities are brought into contact with the juvenile justice system at rates that exceed their less-marginalized peers.
  • Almost every state reports over-representation of minority students in the juvenile justice system, even as youth arrests decline on a national level.

There is a fundamental racial injustice that plagues the educational system, creating school systems that serve some but not all and that are biased-creating marginalized people, families, and communities.


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