Wake Ed

NC school board member disputes ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

A community group that’s been critical of the Wake County school system’s student discipline practices is questioning Wake County school board member Jim Martin’s statement that “there is not a school-to-prison pipeline.”

In an email Monday to Wake County school board and community members, the Education Justice Alliance says it’s “deeply concerned” by the Facebook post Martin wrote March 21. The group also took exception to Martin’s Facebook comments in the same post about there being a “poverty-to-prison pipeline.”

The dispute stems from a March 20 op-ed piece on North Carolina’s school crime and suspension numbers by Jason Langberg and Barbara Fedders, members of the Advisory Board of Youth Justice North Carolina.

Langberg and Fedders wrote that while the numbers are getting better, too many students were being “pushed out” of school. While suspension rates have decreased in Wake County, Langberg and Fedders took the district to task over its long-term suspension numbers.

“Certain schools and districts deserve close scrutiny for their harmful practices,” Langberg and Fedders wrote. “Wake County retained its position as the leader in long-term suspensions. It had 10 percent of the state’s public school students but gave out 25 percent of its long-term suspensions.”

Martin came to the district’s defense on Facebook.

“I encourage everyone who cares about this issue to recognize there is not a school-to-prison pipeline,” Martin wrote. “There is a POVERTY-TO-PRISON pipeline. Schools are by no means perfect, but they probably do more to break the poverty-to-prison pipeline than any other organization. No, schools are not yet good enough to completely brake this pipeline. There is plenty more work we need to do. But if schools had a bit more help from the community breaking the cycle of poverty, we could all end any pipeline to prisons.”

Langberg and other commenters criticized Martin’s response.

“Claiming that there is ‘not a school-to-prison pipeline’ ignores nearly a decade of sound research, minimizes the very real experiences of students, and implies that dedicated education justice advocates, educators, and education policymakers all over the state and country are lying,” Langberg replied on Facebook. “This ignorance or denial is an obstacle to reform.”

Martin responded to the various critics in a March 22 Facebook comment.

“You all may note that in my comment I never once suggested that schools have no responsibility in these matters,” Martin wrote. “You will note I said there is plenty more work to do. In fact if anyone takes the time to follow the work of the school Board, you will find that I am the one who pushed for keeping data records on our SRO MOU, and am also the one who has been pushing for increasing funding for alternative education and social workers in this years budget. What I am calling for, is for schools to stop being blamed for all of societal ills. In all of the discipline related responsibilities I have had as a Board member, I an not going to give the school system a 100% rating. But every single incident was precipitated by inappropriate student activity...trained not by the school system, but a symptom of other social disfunction. What I also see by and large, is a school system that is working hard to break the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity. Success in that work daily breaks all pipelines to prison.”

But the Education Justice Alliance isn’t satisfied by Martin’s comments. EJA says Martin must “acknowledge that suspensions, referrals to law enforcement and other punitive approaches to discipline in Wake County schools, as in schools across the country, are contributing to a school-to-prison pipeline.”

“We will not eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline and the achievement gap if central office, school administrators, school board members, and teachers do not believe that all students can learn even if they are economically disadvantaged or poor,” EJA writes. “As a school board member, denying the existence of the school-to-prison pipeline in our society today will not eliminate the large number of suspensions of students of color and specifically African American students.”