From the beginning of this year, the U.S. Department of Education acknowledged that Black and Hispanic youth faced harsher discipline than that of their White counterparts: The Education Department reported that one in five Black boys and one in 10 Black girls received out-of-school suspension. Combined, Black students were three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than Whites. Because of this bleak reality, many students who incurred minor offenses were met with harsh consequences that eventually led to police detention.
Although numbers and data tell the story, nothing compares to an actual depiction of overzealous discipline at work. On Thursday, NewsOne reported on the case of third-grader Wilson Reyes, 7 (pictured), who was allegedly involved in a scuffle at his school in the Bronx with another student over a $5 bill back in early December.
The skirmish led PS 114 authorities to call the police, who then arrested the boy, locked him up for a reported 10 hours, and interrogated him as if he were a hardened criminal.
Unnamed sources from the department supported the move and simply said the officers were following procedure.
The case came to light after Frances Mendez, Reyes’ mother, brought forth a lawsuit against the NYPD over the treatment of her son. Mendez and her attorney, Jack Yankowitz, are threatening to sue for $250 million and said in a statement that Reyes’ arrest was a “travesty of justice” via a press release regarding the matter.
Those fighting in the trenches on the behalf of youth of color have long noticed the trend of school-related arrests. So much so, that education and criminal justice leaders gathered in Washington for a U.S. Senate hearing in December to address the harsh discipline policies and discuss ways to eliminate the “school-to-prison” pipeline that is sacking our communities.
This meeting was the first time the school-to-prison pipeline had been discussed on the Hill.
At the time, Civil rights organization Advancement Project co-chair Judith Browne Dianis provided testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The gathering, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), was well-attended, with several youth-based organizations represented. Dianis, a veteran civil rights litigator, carefully laid out her testimony and spared no words:
[A]cross the country, students are being suspended, expelled, or even arrested for minor misbehavior like being late or violating a dress code. Students who should be sent to the guidance counselor to find out what is really wrong end up at the police station. We are facing a discipline crisis, one that is pushing students of color out of school, by either kicking them out of school or causing them to drop out….
These overly punitive disciplinary policies and practices, often called “zero tolerance policies,” lead to high dropout rates, low academic achievement, and too many young people pushed on to a pathway to prison.
This is the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
The Pipeline is the result of various practices including zero-tolerance policies, high-stakes testing, suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests.
Dianis then retold the story of how a 5-year-old Florida kindergartner Ja’eisha Scott (pictured right) was arrested by police and led away in handcuffs for having an explosive temper tantrum, and how the incident still resonates in her mind.
Watch Scott being arrested here at the 5:31 mark:
Regarding Reyes case, the Advancement Project once again aimed criticism against the harsh discipline of students in schools nationwide and warned of its consequences in a press release:
There is no moral, logical, or rational explanation for such a drastic approach. An exaggerated response such as this one wreaks havoc on a child’s mental and emotional well-being, and leads to children being pushed in to the criminal justice system and out of school.
If we do not think carefully about placing more police in schools, we’ll needlessly lose a generation of children; not to drugs or crime but to a school discipline system that is set up to guarantee their demise.
Children of color often face circumstances that stem from their living conditions, economic status, and other factors. At one time, schools were thought to be a safe haven for thriving young minds, but with teachers ill-equipped to apply gentler techniques to maintain authority and a propensity to haul unruly children off to jail at a moment’s notice, there has to be a drastic change before another child is chained to a wall like Wilson Reyes or worse.
Learn more about Advancement Project’s efforts and find out how you can get involved here.