Civil Rights Education Reform Racism

Jitu Brown: Schools Can Fight the School-to-Prison Pipeline

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Civil rights leader Jitu Brown wrote in an opinion article for The Chicago Tribune about the importance of using the schools to combat the school-to-prison pipeline. Brown is the national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which connects youth- and parent-led organizations across the nation.

Brown points out studies showing that schools with strict disciplinary policies produce high suspension rates for students of color, which in turn affects test scores and graduation rates.

He writes that schools attended by predominantly nonwhite students have fewer curricular resources than schools where white students predominate.

These environments are punctuated by so-called school resource officers — police stationed in school buildings. More than 1.5 million Black, brown and Indigenous K-12 students are attending schools that have a resource officer but no counselor, guaranteeing that many of these students will be left behind. The violence inflicted upon Black and brown children by school resource officers nationwide must stop. They don’t make our schools safer, and their presence means schools lose precious resources that could be used for counseling and social services.

White-majority schools have always offered much more in core curricular classes, Advanced Placement opportunities, after-school programs, guidance counselors and student supports. Some examples from the Journey for Justice Alliance’s “Failing: Brown v. Board” report elucidate what equity would mean for students of color:

At Marshall High School in Milwaukee, nonwhite students make up 94% of the student body. The school has basic English courses for only freshmen and sophomores and only two other classes. Menomonee Falls High School in a nearby suburb has 21% nonwhite students. It offers 10 English classes.

In Dallas, 39% of Centennial High’s students are nonwhite, compared with 100% of the students at South Oak Cliff High. Yet Centennial offers twice as many language classes, has three times the number of Advanced Placement courses and 23 career path offerings, compared to three at South Oak Cliff.

In Denver, 96% of Manuel High students are minorities. They can choose from fiveart classes, seven AP classes and only one foreign language, Spanish. At Cherry Creek High, 33% of the students are Black or students of color. They have 27 AP classes, six foreign languages and 21 classes in the arts.

The report concludes: “This is racism in action.”

The Equity or Else campaign’s major goal is sustainable community schools. The 2022 federal budget would allocate $440 million to establish such schools, reversing the trend of privatizing public education through charter schools. The movement for equity in public education aims to make American schools more welcoming and truly safe spaces for all children where they can look forward to learning.

Culturally relevant and challenging curriculum, supports for high-quality teaching, wraparound supports for every child, a student-centered school climate, and meaningful parent and community engagement make for the types of schools all children deserve.

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