As our children start another school year, there is some math that I am having a hard time getting my head around, and this time it is not my daughter's eighth grade homework, it is the statistics behind North Carolina's, and specifically Wake County's, school-to-prison pipeline. The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and the systemic racial inequality issues that face America today have prompted me to change the focus of my work going forward. As a community we need to continue to be aware of the inequities that members of our extended community face on a day-to-day basis. This is not just an issue on the news, it is happening in our own backyard.
According to The Advocates for Children's Services’ August 2013 report titled The State of The School-to-Prison Pipeline in the Wake County Public School System,there has been little to no significant change in the data collected in 2008-09. During the 2008-09 school year, "Black students were 26.1% of the total student population but were subject to 62.3% of short-term suspensions, 67.5% of long-term suspensions and 73.4% school based delinquency complaints."
The report states that although a couple of task forces were set up to improve this situation, "little progress has been made over the last two years, and the reasons behind the inaction are unclear: Is it indifference, complacency after some progress had been made, changes in district leadership, competing priorities, or something else?" Could the reason the numbers have not budged be because we are not complaining loudly enough that these numbers are unacceptable?
I don't want to hear complaints about the Common Core, I don't want our legislature spending precious time and taxpayer dollars discussing whether to reverse the decision around Common Core. I want them to be spending many more hours talking about and making changes that will reduce and eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline in Wake County and beyond. This is the issue that is begging for more air time, and as parents and members of this community, we need to demand that this issue gets the attention it deserves.
I believe strongly that if each of us can use Michael Brown's death as a call to action to get involved in some way, we can change the story of what it means to be a black youth in America today. I believe that this is the single most important civil rights issue that we need to address together. Just as I hope I would not have been a silent bystander in the 1960s or earlier in America's history, I choose not to be silent bystander today.
Math was never my strong suit but I know enough to know that these numbers indicate that systemic racial inequality is alive and well in our community. This has got to be unacceptable.
Each month of this school year I will be writing about my efforts to make a difference to this data and the lives of the children behind it. To date I have reached out to the Head of Educator Effectiveness in North Carolina sharing a program for teachers called Teacher Effectiveness Training that does not rely on ineffective punitive action but rather focuses on teaching communication skills that help teachers to identify behavioral needs and build relationships. I have also reached out to a Wake County school board member who is just as passionate about fixing these inequities and shared with her information about Youth Effectiveness Training, which is a program focused on developing positive relationship and empathy skills for children between the ages of 12-18, the exact group of children currently being failed by a lack of behavior based, preventative programming. I have volunteered to mentor students who need additional help at our local middle school and I have also reached out to the Fostering Brighter Futures program at Wake Tech about being a mentor to youth leaving the foster care system and entering college for the first time.
Most importantly, I will be asking our public officials what they are doing about this, and that is something that we can all do. You can read the August 2013 report via this link http://www.legalaidnc.org/stateofpipeline.pdf.
UPDATE: I reached out to Wake County Public Schools and asked what is being done to address the school-to-jail pipeline in our district this year and they provided me with their most recent update. They have introduced The Restorative Justice program in a small number of schools. This is promising but funding is uncertain for the long-term future. You can read the update via this link.