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Thursday, February 7, 2013

A ‘Pipeline To Prison’ In Mississippi Schools

A new report by four civil rights groups claims the state of Mississippi Mississippi "is mired in an extreme school discipline crisis." (Photo from the report "Handcuffs on Success")

A new report by four civil rights groups claims the state of Mississippi Mississippi “is mired in an extreme school discipline crisis.” (Photo from the report “Handcuffs on Success”)

A new report by four civil rights groups finds that an alarming number of young people in Mississippi – most of them black – are being sent to jail or expelled from school for minor infractions.

Last fall, the Department of Justice sued the state, the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County and local judges for civil rights violations.

The defendants deny the charges, but also add that changes have been made.

The report, “Handcuffs on Success: The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools,” was produced by the Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP and the Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse.

The report’s executive summary says, in part:

“Across the state, public schools are hindering the success of children and youth by employing harsh and destructive disciplinary practices. These practices not only exclude students from the classroom thereby reducing learning opportunities, but even worse, Mississippi’s children are being trapped in a pipeline to prison, too often for the most trivial misbehaviors. Whether it is a dress code violation, profane language, or a schoolyard scuffle, young people are being herded into juvenile detention centers and into the revolving door of the criminal justice system.”


  • Eddie Hailes, Jr., general counsel and managing director of the Advancement Project.
  • Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.

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  • Buellmartha

    Schools can no longer deal with the behavioral issues that face them.  Children do need boundaries and discipline, and without them they behave badly, and disrupt the learning environment of all the children.  Indeed some children as well as adults feel threatened when children are “horsing around”.  And as young as middle school children are able to not only bully their peers, but teachers as well. However, providing behavioral supports can not be done at the policy level it needs to be done at the individual child level, on a case by case basis. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregg.walker1 Gregg Walker

    A lot of this sounded extreme, but these kids have to know the rules and the limits.  Unfortunately the guest/activist sounded like whinners.  In my generations, parents and grandparents always stressed that as African Americans we can just be “okay” we had to be better. You don’t want to blame the victims here but we do have to step up as parents and students to be better.

    • Jones

      The speakers would not sound like “whinners” if the white five year old girls with blond hair and blue eyes were hauled off in the back of a police car when they don’t have the correct color shoes.

  • Penney Klaproth

    I agree that students should not be taken by police and charged with felonies for disrupting class.  I also acknowledge that there are inferior teachers in the classroom.  I also would LOVE to see the support system as envisioned by your guests, however for me it always comes back to funding.  I no longer teach and in the K-8 school in which I last taught they no longer have a counselor on campus nor an assistant principal to handle the day-to-day discipline and teacher support.  As funding for schools continues to be cut I’m afraid we will see a worsening of the problems with “discipline” and students such as the ones your guests mentioned with serious issues will not get the help they so desperately need.

  • Kerry

    Please! It’s not the childrens’ faults that their parents are losers, but teachers should not be substitute parents.

  • Dallas16

    Robin – your interview was so one-sided!  Were you afraid to ask the hard questions?  If African American students are being singled out and treated unfairly that is wrong.  But maybe they are not.  Maybe they are not being disciplined or taught how to behave at home.  Is it fair that the other students, black & white, must suffer in a disruptive classroom?  Is it the teacher’s & the school’s job to raise a child?  It was a very poorly done interview. 

    • Mike

      Dallas: You overlook the fact that white children are not being arrested or sent to jail
      for the very same offenses. A Black five year old sent home in a Police car for not wearing the right  color shoes. Jesus, the parents could not afford new shoes.  Black teenagers handcuffed to a rail for not wearing belts. These towns must be the safest places in the country if the Police force deem these cases to have priority. Are there
      no murders, assaults on the elderly or child molestation cases to solve? I bet there are.

      • It

         Mike: Excuses, excuses, excuses. People are
        responsible for their actions.

      • Kindra chinn

        White female from Kentucky here. I once moved to Southhaven Mississippi and I couldn’t get out fast enough. I found myself fighting with other whites on how they treated African Americans. The south is still very violent to blacks. Take prom 2013 in south Georgia. 4 girls 2black 2white had to fight the system to go to the same prom because their school doesn’t allow whites and colored to attend the same prom. I have met other white people who have left because of the violents against blacks.

  • wag

    As a mother with one child in middle school and one in high school, I am amazed at how students act toward their teachers today.  My oldest son has a class he hates due to the disciplinary issues of others in the class.  I appreciate the guests talking about extreme cases, but from what I see volunteering in our school system, it simply comes down to respect and the lack there of.  Teachers cannot be parents to children – they cannot teach them respect – which should be provided to them from their PARENTS!!  What about the students in class who are there to learn?  The school system cannot be the support system for these kids – especially if they don’t want to be there in the first place.

  • Tom

    It is very difficult for people who have not been on the front lines within the classroom today to be able to discern the extreme level of uncivilized behavior of some students.The learning environment is destroyed by a group of very disruptive students and often their wannabe friends join in the disruption game.  School administrators are incentivized to minimize the extent of this anarchical behavior because their jobs are on the line.
    The day will come when this behavior will have to be governed by educational courts that enforce laws in schools or the culture smog will just be too thick to breathe and the school will just become a building that is falsely called a school.

  • Oaktown Teacher

    I agree that some schools are very prison-like because of top-down oppressive management and lack of support for teachers.  I had the pleasure of teaching at two Michigan high schools, one urban public school and one urban private school, that embraced the Choice Theory behavior management philosophy of Dr. William Glasser.  Our schools were anything but prison-like.  We emphasized “freedom with responsbility” and teaching students how to manage their own behavior rather than having a teacher try to manage it for them.  We had very few suspensions or fights among students; drug problems on school property were rare because students LIKED their school and respected their classmates and teachers and administrators.  Students used Dr. Glasser’s concepts to learn how to change their own behavior and teachers and administrators learned how to approach to student misbehavior in NON-CONFRONTATIONAL BUT HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ways.  This required a financial commitment to paying for a trained teacher to manage the “Responsibility Room” every day and paying for ONGOING training in Choice Theory for administrators, teachers, and students.  It worked. Unfortunately the school closed in 2006 due to declining enrollment.  The school community was very sad.  We knew that we had created a very special and unique school.

    • Parent

      I agree with the need for more proven methods to like the Glasser approach described.  The problem of excessive discipline in schools is becoming widespread  and not limited to particular ethnic groups.  Administrators frequently cite “legal-ease” and take punitive action when children are just exercising normal curiosity and limit testing, rather than making the effort to communicate with children and families.  No wonder children get discouraged at schools where they are subject to this abuse of power.  Adding more police officers in schools will only lead to more frivolous accusations and a  threatening, oppressive atmosphere.  School communities need to address real issues such as the need for more resources, smaller class size, and effective teachers who do not give up on children.  

      • Oaktown Teacher

        You are exactly right.  My colleagues and I operated from the standpoint that we wanted our students to remain in school and in class unless a child absolutely refused to change his or her behavior and prevented the teacher from fulfilling their responsibilities.  The teacher would simply point out, after subtle cues and reminders, that the student is choosing to misbehave and therefore is choosing to go the Responsibility Room for the hour to identify their misbehavior and made a plan to improve it.  The teacher there would help the student to identify what the misbehavior was and develop a simple, manageable plan for modifying their behavior–what the student WILL do, rather than what they WON’T do.  The classroom teacher would have to approve the plan before the student returned later that hour or the next day and the student understood that they had to follow through on the plan that they had written.  There was never an emphasis on punishment–only on holding the student accountable for the  behavioral changes they agreed to make as a condition of going back to class.  Problems would be addressed at a low level in a simple before tempers started to flair.  The process changed my teaching early in my career and I was grateful for the techniques I learned.  I would encourage you to read more about Glasser’s Quality School ideas at  http://wglasser.com We wish we could have incorporated more Quality School elements into our school, but the support began to wane after our principal retired.  There were also several noticable positive differences between our school and the other one in our community.  Many of us thought that we made the other school look bad (not intentionally) and therefore, we shouldn’t look so good, I guess.  We were a cohesive bunch–a magical time in our careers.  Perhaps those in power at your school will at least take a look at Glasser’s Quality School concept–it’s really a total approach to managing the entire school in a positive way; the positive discipline changes really grew out of that.  Good luck.

  • Gmblycker

    It is the responsibility of schools to educate children, not to raise them.  If it is determined that it is the governments responsibility to raise them, then the government must have the authority to do so.  To address the “racial” issues brought by the guests, the question arises whether “black” culture is incompatible with universal pubic education.  In which case it is not a racial issue but an ethnic one.  Race is a matter of genes; ethnicity is a matter of choice.  Or is the NAACP arguing that Negroes are genetically indisposed to education?  I would think not!  Asking the schools to change the culture is beyond their capability.  A possible remedy can be found in The Social Animal. (D. Brooks).  Children must be removed from the victimization/entitlement culture.  Daunting.

    • Katie

      We are just asking for equal treatment. If black teenagers need to receive felony charges for throwing peanuts on a bus. Then white teenagers need to be charged with
      felonies for throwing spit wads in the classroom. 

  • GJH

    Our schools are a National joke.  We can’t continue to take all of our social problem and funnel them onto the teachers.  Students who are regularly disruptive or who can’t function in the classroom need to be elsewhere to prevent the education of every student being compromised.  I’m not suggesting the legal system, but not the school system either.   We need a social services school system that can deal with the entire scope of a kid’s problems.  Go to a local school and see what percentage of the staff is actually dedicated to teaching.  It’s a shame.

  • Sushishrink

    I am surprised Robin allowed the statistic to be shared without asking the obvious question – What is the percentage of infractions that are committed by these minority students??  What a slanted interview.  How do we know if it’s 70% getting suspended because it’s 70% committing those infractions compared to the other races??  We don’t have enough information to know if race is an issue or not in selection of punishment. Rather than target the teachers and schools, let’s hold some parents accountable for getting the kids help.  And if we keep these kids in school for suspended days, keep them in a separate class working on schoolwork.  I encourage your guests to spend some days in classrooms and see the struggle for students trying to learn around such disruption.  Our schools can’t become a social service provider, we barely have funding for eduction.  Fund one in-school suspension classroom teacher instead – Not more social services.  And if these kids’/teens’ parents are not working, make them come in to volunteer in that classroom.  Parents who are not working or disabled, who are receiving assistance, should be required to fill some of these funding gaps by giving back with their time and effort.  

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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