As another example of excessive police force against a student hits the headlines, it makes me wonder when the outrage over such treatment of children will compel our policy makers to say “enough.”
The disturbing video, which surfaced last week, shows a young African-American girl at South Carolina Spring Valley High School being approached by a school resource officer while seated at her desk. The officer then proceeds to put her in a headlock, slam her to the floor, then drag her across the classroom before putting her into handcuffs. The video is appalling. But, thankfully, someone captured footage of the incident because it reinforces our belief that the approach to discipline in most public schools needs to change.
On Sunday Nov. 1, I will be speaking at the Ann Arbor NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner where the topic is "Pursuing Liberty in the Face of Injustice" with a focus youth and what we can do to protect them outside and inside the classroom.
To be clear, students should respect all school personnel. As the parent of a student in public school, I believe educators should have all the tools necessary to keep themselves and the children they teach safe. I do not believe that police should be in schools to police behavior. Nor do I believe that we can arrest and expel our way to better student outcomes.
Earlier this year, the ACLU of Michigan released For Naught: How Zero Tolerance Policy and School Police Practices Imperil Our Students’ Future—a 2015 report detailing suspensions, expulsion and arrests in our state public schools by Michigan State University professor Christopher Dunbar. Zero-tolerance policy refers to offenses requiring mandatory school exclusion or referral to law enforcement and its expansion over time has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of children being pushed out of school while doing little to improve safety.
From 2010 to 2012 there were 1,425 arrests in Detroit Public Schools—nearly three each school day—the majority of them for behavior-related offenses, as opposed to crimes. Michigan suspends some 137,000 students annually, about 9 percent of the overall public school population and more than the national average.
A couple of weeks ago, I testified before the Michigan state Senate Education Committee in opposition of SB 208: a bill that would expand Michigan’s zero-tolerance law. Our law is already more expansive than all but one state in the nation (Texas). In fact, today I was contacted by a Genesee County parent claiming a 7-year-old was handcuffed in a school there.
We need more tolerance and more discretion in our approach to disciplining students, and more support for our educators so that they have the resources necessary to confront the root cause of student misconduct. Simply removing a child from school does nothing to address the reason they acted out in the first place.
When I started working on our school-to-prison pipeline campaign nearly five years ago, one of the first school districts we approached as a result of complaints about excessive, disproportionate discipline of students was Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS). Earlier this month, the Ann Arbor school district reported that suspensions were down 50 percent in high schools and 75 percent in middle schools, as reported by MLive.com. The district also removed police from the schools. While the issue of disproportionate suspensions of black students remains an issue, the data represents progress nonetheless. And more importantly, AAPS has shown what happens when throwing students out is no longer the first option.