Expert testimony highlight failures of harsh school discipline policies and outline alternative solutions
(Washington) – Across the country, an alarming number of students are suspended, expelled and even arrested for minor or trivial offenses. Instead of being sent to school guidance counselors for schoolyard fights or talking back to teachers, young people are increasingly pushed into police stations, courtrooms and juvenile detention centers.
Advancement Project was invited to testify at a hearing last week before the U.S. Senate. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chaired the hearing, titled “Ending the School to Prison Pipeline.”
Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project and a veteran civil rights advocate, provided expert testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Dianis detailed how the school-to-prison pipeline harms students and how such practices are shown to be ineffective at improving school achievement, safety, and hence, a waste of taxpayer resources.
“Overly harsh discipline policies lead to high dropout rates, lower academic achievement, and students not getting the help they need,” said Dianis, who notes that Black and Latino students are punished more harshly than White youth for the same minor infractions. “It’s time for common-sense discipline that keeps kids in school and on a pathway to a career or college, not prison.”
Other witnesses included former Chicago Public School student Edward Ward, the Honorable Judge Steven Teske of the Clayton County Juvenile Court, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Honorable Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education, Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and Andrew Coulson from the Cato Institute.
The congressional hearing comes less than two months after the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Meridian, Mississippi officials for systematically incarcerating African-American children. Federal investigators found that Meridian students were criminalized – handcuffed and arrested, and locked up for days at a time without a probable cause hearing – for violations such as wearing the wrong color socks, tardiness, using vulgar language and going to the bathroom without permission.
Witnesses at the Senate hearing will also explore proven alternatives to harsh discipline practices, and successful initiatives to help end the school-to-prison pipeline. “We want safe, high-quality schools that give our children the opportunity to succeed,” Dianis said. “Every kid should be able to dream.”