This is a year unlike any other. I am sure you have heard this over and over again as, over the past seven months, our lives have been completely upended. From the way we work, travel, worship, and teach, nothing is the same. The coronavirus has claimed over 210,000 American lives, orphaned children and exposed the inequities that exist within society.
Over the summer, we witnessed the nation wake up to the evils of systemic racism and the over-policing of Black and brown bodies. Unfortunately, folks have “grown tired” of hearing about racism and have repeated the trend of white backlash when it seemed like Black and brown people were finally going to be treated equitably. Joseph Lowry’s quote, “Everything has changed and nothing has changed,” reverberates throughout our current reality.
As an activist for the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline, one of the most promising things that happened not long after the murder of George Floyd was that schools were finally talking about severing their relationships with police in their schools. As a person who attended schools with police officers, I can say that the impact of their presence was felt by every child within the school building. Knowing that society believed we could only be educated by policing us at such a young age is something that will never quite leave my psyche.
Since schools have been shuttered, the number of youth being referred to the juvenile justice system has decreased significantly—by 50%. This is yet another example of how COVID-19 has exposed the disparities within our school systems. Whether we want to believe it or not, there is a school-to-prison pipeline. And while some students are afforded an opportunity to go to school and be successful, for our students of color, who are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white counterparts, school can be a pipeline for the criminal injustice system. So many years of progress in discipline was struck down under the current administration’s decision to eliminate the Obama era discipline guidance that called for the reduction of suspensions for students of color.
The consequences of disparate discipline systems can have a significant impact on a students’ future dreams and opportunities; however, Common App, a College application app used by over 900 colleges, has recently removed a requirement to report student discipline data from its application. This promising practice will allow students who may not have previously applied to college due to stereotype threat to complete an application to pursue higher education.
Too many students have been marginalized, discriminated against, and harshly punished due to unjust discipline systems, and the data we have seen since schools have closed have reaffirmed these discriminatory practices that exist within our school systems—more application sites should follow suit and stop asking students about their disciplinary records in order to get into college.
We have the power to dismantle the pipeline to prison and provide students with pathways to success and prosperity. This move by Common App is truly promising, but even more promising would be a change in our practices and classroom management that shifts from discipline to restoration.
Kelisa Wing is the author of "Weeds & Seeds: How To Stay Positive in the Midst of Life’s Storms" and "Promises and Possibilities: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline" (both available on Amazon). She also is a 2017 State Teacher of the year, speaker, teacher and activist for discipline reform. Kelisa holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland University College, a ...