A woman with brown hair and glasses, wearing a gray blazer stands behind a podium with a sign on it reading "25 Yeaers" and a blue curtain behind her, lifts her right hand as she speaks to the audience.

#TFA25: Shutting Down the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Summit panelists discuss how to challenge and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
Monday, February 29, 2016

Moderator and former Newark schools Superintendent, Cami Anderson, opened the Shutting Down the School-to-Prison Pipeline panel at the 25th Anniversary Summit talking about her brother Philip.

Born addicted to heroin, Philip would stumble through both the foster and school system before landing in prison. Later, when asked by a judge during an unrelated jury selection if she believed her brother had been treated fairly, Anderson struggled with the answer. Yes, Philip didn’t make great choices. But, he was a black man incarcerated by a system known for its racial and class disparities.

Anderson’s story touched on what would be an important through line for the panel—the school-to-prison pipeline is a problem that’s broader and more personal to us than we thought.

“Sometimes those who care deeply about social justice are guilty of spending more time admiring the problem than solving the problem."
–Dr. John King, Jr., Acting U.S. Secretary of Education

Speakers at the panel ranged from well-known policy leader and cultural and race issues journalist Michele Norris to Acting Secretary of Education John King, Jr.

At the session, a packed audience of education advocates were urged to be honest with themselves about times they’ve supported the biased-based discipline policies that often blur the lines between what is criminal behavior and everyday school discipline.

When Chief of Schools at Madison Public school district, Nancy Hanks, ran into a student she had expelled in Southside Chicago, it forced her to reassess her commitment to education. “At the time, I couldn't separate the child from the act,” an emotional Hanks said. “I couldn’t find that ‘just mercy.’”

Beyond those within the movement taking ownership, there’s also the need to view school-to-prison pipeline problem as part of a bigger racial and socio-economic issue that requires “robust wraparound services,” in and outside classroom.

“To challenge the school-to-prison pipeline, we must start with a high-quality public school education for each child…We need supportive systems and structures, and we need as professionals to engage in the hard conversations around bias.”
–Dr. John King, Jr.

One solution that stood out was the need to develop a “prison-to-promise system” that would help students already incarcerated and in the pipeline return to school. Claire Blumenson, executive director of the School Justice Project, which works with students with disabilities to re-enter the education system after prison. “We can only change things when we accept that the school-to-prison pipeline isn’t just about suspensions and expulsions” said Blumenson, echoing King’s sentiments on taking a more dimensional approach and carving out a path to opportunity for adjudicated youth.

Watch the entire session video below and hear as leaders address the challenges of the juvenile justice system and their visions for how to end the school-to-prison pipeline and the systems supporting it.

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