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Resources Brought to Light in Discussion of School to Prison Pipeline (video)

essentialTOPtempResources Brought to Light in ferncareADDiscussion of School to Prison Pipeline (video)

(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 4, 2015)

The ACLU of Michigan and other organizations are coming together to address the growing trend of harsh punishments at school leading to suspensions and expulsions, leading to more challenging lives and eventually prison. Educators struggle to find the balance between safe schools and the responsibility to educate the children that come to them. More and more school lisa schmidt lawdistricts are cracking down on misbehavior and casting away students. This is known as “the school to prison pipeline,” and it’s a topic that brought panelists from several organizations out to have a community conversation last week.

ACLU Michigan Field Director Rodd Motts was joined on the panel by Kate Mealekoff of the Student Rights Project which trains University of Michigan students to be non-legal advocates representing children in public K-12 schools who are facing long term suspension or expulsion.

They were joined by Kenzi Bisbing who is the Education Manager at Oakland Mediation Center where she has specialized in mediation, crisis resolution and bullying prevention trainings. Brad Dembs, Staff Attorney with Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, was also on the panel.Detroit_GT_ad01

Many of those in attendance were already familiar with the school to prison pipeline, but for those less familiar, a recent report released by ACLU Michigan called “All for Naught” gives a pretty succinct overview of the problem.

“Public school students are kicked out of school and arrested at rates that were unimaginable a generation ago. Worse still, the children who get suspended or expelled, referred to police or arrested, are those who are the most vulnerable,” the report states. “They are the students who struggle academically or don’t fit in culturally or have to overcome troubles at home. These factors impact student conduct – and they disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities and students from low-income households. “The report goes on to explain that zero tolerance policies have expanded to mandate suspension or expulsion for violating codes of conduct. “When children are forced to stay away from school the odds of their falling behind, failing to graduate and ending up unemployed or unemployed are disturbingly high. There are Judy_Palmer30yearsthe children who are funneled into the pipeline to prison.”

The discussion focused quite a bit on special needs students, and how students with specialized plans often fall through the cracks.

Karen Twomey, who is a teacher in Bloomfield Hills Schools and a School Board Trustee for Ferndale Schools, moderated the panel discussion. She encouraged people to find out what the policies are in their school districts and to have conversations with Superintendents and School Board members about those policies.

Dembs told parents that if they have a child with an IEP – Individualized Education Plan – they can request, at any time, for the IEP to be reviewed. He said there are rules about how long the districts have to comply.dickeys_graduation_ad_ferndale  Through Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service Dembs is able to be a voice for students with disabilities who are facing discipline for behaviors related to their medical condition.

Some suggestions given in the ACLU report include: “Limit the list of offenses with mandatory expulsion to the weapons outlined in the current law and that the four existing exceptions are considered consistently. Two, reevaluate the role of law enforcement in schools so that student discipline is not policed. Rather if resource officers must be in school, they should be there to protect students and staff from serious violence. Three, implement or expand the use of proven alternatives to suspension, expulsion and arrest. Such alternatives include restorative practices, positive behavior intervention and supports, peer mediation and other corrective preventative discipline strategies.”

For Bisbing, opening up lines of communication and talking about issues seems a logical first step. “The thing I’d like to see is changing our vocabulary from a ‘versus’ [perspective] to a ‘together.’ We have agencies. We have schools. We have communities. We have students. We have parents. And it’s not a case of who’s doing the right thing and whose doing the wrong thing, and how do we get people to do what we want, but more of how do we all work together to really help our children?”

The hour-long panel gave each representative a chance to talk more in depth about the ways they work to protect young people who are facing disciplinary actions. After the panel members of the audience divided into discussion groups. Watch the main panel discussion below:

seed14_chad_mattFor the full ACLU All for Naught report, go to:

Learn more about participating organizations:

ACLU of Michigan –

Oakland Mediation –

Student Rights Project –

Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service –


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