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Friday, August 3, 2018

News Roundup: Focus on school discipline, part 2

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.

Last week, I wrote about recent research on racial disparities in school discipline. In a continuation of that post, I wanted to write about how themes from the research - unconscious bias, for example - affect real students/families in very real ways, as seen in a few recent stories.

Antwon Rose Protest (Source: Katelyn Sykes)

As mentioned in part 1, these stories have been overshadowed by other news. But they are too important to go unnoticed. One covers an extrajudicial student discipline system that I had never heard of. The other is a recent version of a story that we hear all the time. Among several disturbing similarities, in both stories, Black and Latinx students are denied due process in ways that are deeply morally troubling.

Recently, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Riverside County Probation Department in California for its Youth Accountability Team (YAT). The YAT was ostensibly designed as a program to intervene with so-called “pre-delinquent” or “delinquent” youth before they got into more serious trouble. However, it functions in the opposite fashion, basically “funnelling [students] into the criminal justice system.”

One of the plaintiffs, Andrew, was using an orange for a hacky-sack game with his friends at school when the orange bounced through the legs of a school resource officer. Andrew was handcuffed and taken to the principal’s office where they searched his backpack and found marijuana.

Andrew was then given this option: sign a contract to be part of the YAT or go to juvenile court. No lawyer was present. He signed the contract.

Andrew’s case is one of many. Specifically, YAT functions in 17 school districts in the county and “from 2005 to 2016, 12,971 youths were under a YAT contract, 25 percent of whom were accused of a noncriminal offense.”

Unsurprisingly: “Black students were 2.5 times and Latinx students were 1.5 times more likely than white students” to be caught in the YAT dragnet. Students got into the YAT system for things like “talking back to teachers, earning poor grades, being late to class, or ‘pulling the race card.’”

What happens then? YAT contracts give law enforcement officials basically unrestricted access to student information, including school records and counseling reports. The contracts require regular drug tests and meetings with probation officers, over and above what a court would likely recommend given the infraction. Probation officers could even visit student homes, and one officer was even quoted saying “We can do all kinds of surveillance, including wire taps on phones, without having to get permission from a judge.” That’s a real quote.

Even worse: “law enforcement officials keep detailed information about YAT participants long after they’re done with the program, which can be used against them later.”

The lawsuit (full text) is asking that the court prohibit the use of the YAT system under situations of coercion and without students fully understanding their legal rights. I’ll track any updates.

Then, there’s the story of Antwon Rose, a 17 year-old Black teenager who was recently shot and killed while running away, unarmed, from a police officer. There have been big protests about this in East Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure it’s gotten nearly enough attention in national news. The story itself is far too big to summarize in this post, but the links here have a lot of background.

Antwon Rose (Source: Huffington Post)

What I want to focus on is the connection to Antwon’s experiences at school. This Huffington Post article reports that “a long shadow of police brutality followed Antwon Rose’s childhood.” Specifically, the very school that Antwon went to was already named in a lawsuit from 2017, charging that it fostered “a culture of abuse at the hands of high school administrators, security members and school resource officers.” Reflecting on Antwon’s killing, a protester (and graduate of that same school) was quoted as saying: “When you think about where Antwon went to school...he saw his friends getting beat up by these cops and how the justice system works against their abusers. Would that not inform your interaction with police officers?” 

He continued: “In this present-day culture ― a culture where Antwon exists, where Tamir Rice exists ― to expect a black child to go into school and feel safe with officers who are armed … that’s violence against them.”

There is severe disregard for this issue at the federal level and things have been getting worse. ProPublica recently reported that more than 1,200 civil rights probes from the Obama administration have been shut down by Betsy DeVos. Many of these deal with school discipline issues. Ken Marcus was recently confirmed as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights under DeVos. As you can see in this letter from civil rights groups, things are unlikely to improve under his leadership. 

So what can be done? ProPublica is, in part, stepping into the void left by the DOE - you can use this “share your story” website to let them know about civil rights violations at a school. They may follow up with investigative journalism, in place of actual investigation from law enforcement arms of the federal government. 

And the power of attention and communication can't be ignored. Amidst the maelstrom of terrible news, it’s important to stay on top of the big stories that don’t get big coverage, to talk about these with friends, to get people fired up about it, so that we can make progress in the small places where that is possible and, hopefully, open up spaces for more progress in the future. 

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