Published: Jan 29, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Jan 29, 2013 02:30 PM
All of us who send our children to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools want and expect the best for them to receive a stellar education that will prepare them for employment, college, life; to learn to get along with other students no matter the country they come from, the color of their skin, the language they speak at home, or the job their parents do; and to be treated fairly by teachers and administrators. And it seems the schools succeed, much of the time, for many of their students.
Yet some students are pushed out through a suspension, or they drop out, victims of perhaps years of unmet academic and emotional need. Some of these young people even become ensnared in the juvenile and criminal systems, where their future prospects become dimmer yet.
To be sure, the numbers in Chapel Hill-Carrboro are better than in most other counties in North Carolina Our suspension rate per 100 students is 5.3, according to the Department of Public Instruction; by comparison, the rates in Orange, Wake, and Durham counties are 13, 26, and 38, respectively. Our dropout rates are similarly low, and have been declining over time.
While the overall numbers may compare favorably to those in other counties, the racial disparities in school exclusion and dropout rates are staggering. Black students make up just over 10 percent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools student body, yet comprise over 60 percent of those who are suspended. Black and Hispanic young people make up over half of the students who leave school early.
Sixty cases of in-school misconduct were referred to the delinquency courts last year. No agency tracks the number of cases in our states criminal courts that originate in schools, but given the fact that 16- and 17-year-olds are considered adults for prosecution purposes, the number is likely as high if not higher than the number sent to juvenile court. For the most part, the in-school infractions landing students in court are not felonies, and are not violent offenses. They are school fights, insubordination, possession of alcohol. Serious and annoying for teachers? Definitely. But worthy of prosecution?
The question of which offenses merit referral to law enforcement is highly discretionary, and, like suspensions and dropout rates, law enforcement referrals correlate strongly with race Once in these systems, young people become stigmatized and can suffer life-long consequences such as difficulty finding employment, obtaining financial aid, and enlisting in the military.
All of us who send our children to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools want and expect the best for them but only some of us get it. Others find themselves in a school to prison pipeline, a troubling, nationwide phenomenon in which youth are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal systems. The affected young people tend to be vulnerable because of histories of poverty, abuse, neglect, and unmet educational needs Students of color are particularly affected by discretionary and sometimes discriminatory disciplinary and criminalization practices. They would benefit from counseling, after-school programs, community-based services; instead, they are isolated and pushed out. High-stakes testing programs exacerbate the problem, by encouraging educators to push out low-performing students to improve overall test scores.
On Saturday, Feb. 2, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Carrboro Century Center, parents, school administrators, elected officials, law enforcement, grass-roots activists, and youth advocates will gather to discuss punitive and criminalized disciplinary policies and their impact on our most vulnerable students. I am a member of Citizens Advocating for Racial Equity, a group that has organized the event. Along with other local organizations, CARE believes that we can do better here. That better than other North Carolina counties is not good enough. Join us.Barbara Fedders is a clinical assistant professor at UNC.
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