Video: “What We Carry On Our Backs: The School To Prison Pipeline”

“Members of the Philadelphia Student Union collaborated with film-makers Aidan Un, Lendl Tellington, and Sarah Milinski to create videos on issues that are relevant to the lives of young people in Philadelphia.”

Original link.

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“Charter schools’ discipline policy under fire”

The Advocate: “Wesley Nakamura is teaching a sophomore algebra class at Carver Collegiate Academy in New Orleans East. A student near the front of the room raises his hand and asks to go to the restroom. Things go badly from there.

Nakamura prepares to hand over a hall pass but asks the student if he might not want to wait a few minutes. He might miss an important point. The boy, already standing, mumbles something barely audible, and Nakamura straightens. “That’s not how you talk to me,” he says firmly.

The discussion continues for another few moments, and the boy leaves for the restroom in a huff, jerking open the door with a loud thud. He doesn’t even seem to notice that sitting in the back of the room is the school’s principal, Jerel Bryant, who quickly moves to the door and calls him back for a chat.

“I don’t wanna talk!” he yells before Bryant escorts him down the hall and outside for a private discussion.

Though in some ways a typical high school scene, an incident like this encapsulates a lot about the charter school organization that runs Carver — why, by many measures, it has been hugely successful, and also why it is so persistently controversial.

The group, called Collegiate Academies, runs three high schools in New Orleans and has produced some of the best academic results in the city. Its philosophy, as with many charter schools, centers on holding students to a high standard in both academics and classroom behavior.

But this sort of “no excuses” model has also left Collegiate — and other groups like it in New Orleans — open to criticism. Its schools have some of the highest suspension rates in the state. And last month, it was hit with a formal civil rights complaint from a group of students and their families alleging a “harsh and punitive” discipline culture.

Too many students, the families argued, are being taken out of the classroom for “very minor infractions, such as speaking disrespectfully to a teacher.”

In one way, the argument between Collegiate and its critics is a dispute about plain facts. The complaint makes specific accusations, even alleging at one point that a teacher called an autistic student “stupid” and encouraged classmates to throw paper at him.

Sorting out the truth of these claims is difficult for a number of reasons. There are no names given in the complaint; statements are attributed to “Student L” or “Parent J.” And school staff for the most part cannot comment on specific allegations because of federal privacy laws, though broadly speaking they deny most of the complaint’s assertions.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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“The the number of serious incidents of misbehavior plummeted 60 percent…”

The American Prospect: “Before 2006, when Debora Borges-Carrera became the principal at Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School (KCAPA) in north Philadelphia, the school was the scene of pandemonium. Not a day seemed to go by without a fight in the concrete stairwell. Kids sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class roamed the hallways. During one visit from the superintendent, a riot broke out in the cafeteria, with students climbing on tables and chucking their meal trays across the room. In Borges-Carrera’s first year on the job, the school—where about 90 percent of students are Latino or black and 100 percent are below the poverty line—reported 76 incidents of student misbehavior, more than four times the state average, including 13 aggravated assaults on staff members.

Under KCAPA’s “zero tolerance” policy—since the late 1990s, the prevailing approach to discipline in schools across the country—the typical response to student misbehavior was harsh punishment. “Any behavior that got a student sent to the principal’s office almost automatically resulted in suspension,” says Erin Smith, a teacher at the school since 2004. Under the district’s vaguely worded discipline policy, students were routinely transferred for possession of a “weapon,” which could be anything from a gun to a butter knife. With an estimated 200 out-of-school suspensions, according to the School District of Philadelphia, and a student body of just under 400, it was clear the system wasn’t working.

Within months of coming on the job, Borges-Carrera replaced KCAPA’s existing policy with a set of practices collectively known as restorative justice. Rather than punishing students who are out of line, restorative justice aims to help them rebuild their standing in the school community and repair the harm they have caused. The practices vary—peer-mediation programs, empathy training for offenders—but the basic idea is that strong interpersonal and community ties work better than fear of retribution.

The cornerstone of KCAPA’s program is the “restorative circle.” Drawing inspiration from the American Indian practice of the talking circle, in which a totem is passed around to signal the opportunity to speak, these meetings are convened for all kinds of reasons, from gauging students’ moods to addressing acts of serious misbehavior like assault or vandalism. In those more serious cases, all affected members of the community—parents and teachers, police officers, kids from other schools, as well as the perpetrator and victim—are invited to attend. One at a time, without interruption, each participant talks about how the offense has affected him or her. Then the group comes up with a plan to repair the damage. It may sound hokey or mundane, but the results are often striking.

“You get kids where at first glance you think, ‘Wow, OK, you seem very hard-core’—full-on crying,” says Thalia González, a professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles who studies restorative justice. Many students from neighborhoods with a history of violence, she says, long for a safe environment where they can express themselves. “With restorative justice, school suddenly becomes a place where you can do that. It changes how you view yourself. It changes how you view each other.”

Borges-Carrera also instituted a peer-mediation program to resolve conflicts before they escalate. Teachers who come across or hear about students not getting along—an argument in the hall, rumors of an upcoming fight—send them to speak with a designated peer who encourages them to talk out the problem. When the program began, students mostly ended up in mediation by referral, but over time, they have come to recognize its value for themselves.

“I’ve had kids say, ‘I really want to fight today,’” Smith says. “They’ll ask for a mediation slip, and I’ll be like, ‘For who?’ And they’ll be like, ‘For me.’”

Read the rest of the article here.

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Freedom Summer Youth Congress Addressing Youth Criminalization & More This Summer

Jackson Free Press:

Freedom Summer to Empower Youth

“Albert Sykes grew up in west Jackson the next block over from the street where Medgar and Myrlie Evers lived, but says he never had a real connection to the Civil Rights Movement until he was in the sixth grade and met Bob Moses.

Moses was the former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and started the Algebra Project in 1982 to help improve math education for kids of color.

Today, Sykes remains involved with the Young People’s Project—an outgrowth of the Algebra Project—and is one of the organizers of the Freedom Summer Youth Congress and Freedom Fest, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer this year.

During the Freedom Summer of 1964, young people gathered in Ohio for orientation sessions before boarding buses to head to Mississippi to do justice organizing work. Sykes said that this time around, Mississippi will act as the training ground for young organizers before they are dispatched to locales around the nation.

Speaking at Koinonia Coffee House’s Friday Forum, Sykes and fellow Freedom Summer Youth Congress and Freedom Fest organizer Jed Oppenheim said the Congress would address the intersectionality of issues facing young people, including the criminalization of normal youth behavior, LGBT bullying, labor rights and challenging voter ID.”

Read the rest here.

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Kiera Wilmot, the Honor Student Who Was Arrested For a Botched Science Experiment, Tells Her Story

Advancement Project:

“This is the story of Kiera Wilmot, who in her efforts to further her education, found herself caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline — arrested for a science experiment due to unfair disciplinary policies run without reason or conscious. While Kiera was eventually allowed to return to school and will graduate from high school in June 2014, no student should have to go through what she went through just to explore her love of science.”

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JJIE: “Life after Juvenile Detention”

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange:

“By:  | 

JONESBORO, Ga. — Of all the birthdays Julie Kisaka remembers from her childhood, one clearly stands out among the rest.

“There’s nothing worse than celebrating your 15th birthday in jail,” Kisaka said.

Kisaka, now 29, recalls being confined at a youth detention facility in Clayton County, Ga., for stealing her parents’ car. On her birthday, Kisaka’s parents brought her a chocolate cake, and the three of them sat quietly in the detention center’s small cafeteria. Behind bars, Kisaka tasted bitterness.

“I think that I was like ‘OK – I need to chill,’” Kisaka said.

She decided she never wanted to spend another birthday in detention. But today, Kisaka is back in the courtrooms where it all started 15 years ago, this time, as a law clerk for Steven Teske, chief judge of Clayton County Juvenile Court.

Kisaka is now finishing her last year of law school in Jacksonville, Fla., at Florida Coastal School of Law, where she has been specializing in corporate transaction law. Up until January, when she started working for the court, Kisaka had largely put her juvenile delinquent past behind her.

But as she sat in on juvenile court hearings and saw a young offenders sitting in front of a judge who could forever change their futures, she said she couldn’t help but relate. And her ambitions have now changed.

“I have a soft spot for this type of law and this practice,” Kisaka said.

Kisaka, who immigrated with her parents from Kenya when she was 4 years old, is petite and soft-spoken. But when it comes to juvenile-justice law, her passion speaks loudly.

“I think the only negative thing [that came from my experience] is how I ended up feeling how a lot of youth are being treated,” she said.

A juvenile record

Fifteen years ago, Kisaka stood in front of a judge, wearing a light brown jumpsuit with handcuffs on her arms and shackles around her ankles.

Days earlier, she had taken her dad’s car while her parents were out, and, not knowing how to drive, immediately crashed it into the side of their apartment building. When her parents came back, they had to call the police to file a report for their insurance claim.

“When they asked what happened, we had to tell them the truth. From there, then she got a record,” said Kisaka’s father, Donald Mwawasi.

Kisaka, who had been on probation due to missing school, was now facing greater punishment.

In court, Kisaka felt defiant and confident. “All I heard was 30 days to disposition, and I think I’m going home,” Kisaka recalled.

But she had misheard. The judge called for 30 days in detention before her disposition hearing. She was put back in her holding cell. Up until that point, she had felt invincible.

“I cried. You’re scared and you’re 14,” she remembered. “I relatively wasn’t, I don’t think, a bad kid.”

Her parents were the only adults with her at the time of the hearing. They didn’t have any legal representation at the time, a condition now required in Georgia.

Her father said he never expected the court to send her to a youth facility. “They said it was just detention and not a prison,” Mwawasi recalled.

“They said that’s the best way for her to learn.” But he said not having his daughter in his home was stressful. He didn’t know how she was being treated, what she was being fed. “You’d wish that nothing of that kind would happen, as a parent.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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“Are School Closings the ‘New Jim Crow’? Activists File Civil Rights Complaints.”

The Washington Post:


“Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the Advancement Project’s Judith Browne Dianis. This version has been corrected.

Arguing that school closures in cities across the country disproportionately affect African American students, community activists filed three federal civil rights complaints Tuesday challenging closures in Newark, New Orleans and Chicago and called on the Obama administration to halt similar efforts elsewhere.

“Children are being uprooted, shuffled into schools that are no better than the ones they came from,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, one of several organizations that are calling their effort the Journey for Justice Alliance. “In each city, African American children’s hopes of equal educational opportunity are being dashed.”

The complaints, sent to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department, charge that students of color from Newark, Chicago and New Orleans have been disproportionately affected by school closures and charter-school expansions. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the use of federal funds by schools and other institutions.

In Newark, 13 public schools have closed since 2009. In Chicago, 111 schools have closed since 2001. In New Orleans, all the traditional public schools except five have shut down since 2003. The District of Columbia has closed 39 traditional public schools since 2008.

Those shuttered schools have been replaced by public charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but are privately operated. Teachers in charter schools typically are not unionized.

In New Orleans, 79 percent of students attend charter schools, the highest rate in the nation. Next in line is Detroit, where 51 percent of students attend charters, and the District, where 43 percent of public-school students are in charters.

The activists called on the Obama administration to halt school closings and stop the spread of charter schools.

That seems unlikely for an administration that has consistently promoted the expansion of charters, making it a requirement for states that want to compete for Race to the Top funding or receive a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. In 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Hurricane Katrina was the “best thing” to happen to the New Orleans public-school system because so many neighborhood schools never reopened and were replaced by charter schools. Duncan later apologized for his remarks, calling them “dumb.”

Congress, too, has supported charter schools. Last week, the House approved a bill to encourage the growth of charters.

In the cases the complaints cite, schools that were closed overwhelmingly served African American students while public schools attended by significant numbers of white students remained open.

States and school districts cited, in most cases, dwindling enrollments or chronic underperformance as reasons for closure.

Activists said local and state governments neglected and starved the neighborhood schools of resources, guaranteeing their poor quality. They argue that the charter schools that opened as replacements generally were not academically better.

Meanwhile, the shuttering of neighborhood schools has damaged African American communities, they said.

“It’s ironic that those pushing school choice as school reform are taking away our choice,” said Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent and a public education advocate. “Most African American parents in New Orleans don’t have the choice of neighborhood schools, unlike their white counterparts. If you’re white, you have a better chance to attend a neighborhood school you can walk to. If you’re black, you have very little chance.”

“This push to close schools in predominantly African American communities is the new Jim Crow,” Harper Royal said.

Families displaced by school closings enter a lottery in New Orleans, where they can compete with other families for a chance to attend one of eight charter schools, Harper Royal said. “You have a chance, not a choice,” she said.

After filing their complaints in the morning, the activists held an afternoon rally on the steps of the Supreme Court, where they were joined by leaders of the nation’s two major teachers unions.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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Communities Around The Country Gear Up For National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth!

A pipeline runs in a single direction, and once entered into the mouth, destiny sweeps everything before it to the bottom; a pipeline offers no exits, no deviations or departures, no way out—unless it fractures. From Education to Incarceration is not focused on prison reform or tinkering with the mechanisms of the pipeline to make it “fairer” or more efficient; it’s aimed, rather, at ripping open the pipeline, upending the assumptions that got us where we are, and then throwing every section of pipe and all the braces and supports into the dustbin of history. – See more at:

Excerpt from the Forward of Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline (Forward by William Ayers)

Youth advocacy organizations all around the country have created events for the upcoming National Week of Action Against Youth Incarceration. It will be the week of May 19th. As a result of ongoing weekly meetings, brainstorming, pure passion & coordination between grassroots groups across the nation– potlucks, film screenings, numerous marches and more are scheduled to happen all of next week.

In Arizona, mothers will be marching against solitary confinement. In Los Angeles, there is a youth concert and rally. In San Diego, there will be numerous film screenings. There will be a teach-in and more in Buffalo. This Facebook page is where you can find a comprehensive overview of all the events springing up around the country for the Nat’l Week of Action Against Youth Incarceration.

Chicago, in particular, will be holding a meaningful kick-off to the week with a march to the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. It will start at Paderewski Elementary School (a school that was shut down by CPS last year). Young people are at the forefront of this symbolic action and will be sharing poetry and giving speeches. Participants are encouraged to bring padlocks for this symbolic collective action. For updates on Chicago’s National Week of Action Against Incarceration, refer to this Facebook page.

On the significance of this particularly symbolic kick-off to the week:

“Marching from a closed school to the youth detention facility symbolizes our commitment to advocate for better use of public funds; namely more funding for schools and extracurricular activities, jobs and vocational skills development, behavioral and mental health services, community-based alternatives to incarceration, and other restorative justice measures.”

Please come out and join the community in facing systemic oppression and violence against our youth, with our youth–and with their lead!

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Powerful youth journalism: “Lost Friends: Violence through the eyes of Chicago’s youth”

The pain, fear and trauma that youth go through daily as a result of their close proximity to indiscriminate violence is seldom given space for acknowledgement and healing and is in fact–often repressed or silenced via institutional racism and oppression. The constant reminder that black life is not valued outside of so-called safe spaces such as schools is compounded when they realize their lives are not valued inside of these institutions either. Social and emotional needs of youth are simply given zero priority and zero tolerance at multiple junctures in their lives. Lost Friends peers in to the world of young students that have lost loved ones to violence and live within these marginalized communities. The brilliance and power of these stories is that it is completely their own. They are the ones narrativizing their emotions and experiences. In a world where their voices are always stifled and seldom heard, youth are pushing back and demanding that you listen and that their experiences are humanized within popular media. This is journalism that is truly transformative, empowering and healing for the students themselves and for their peers who are watching.

The Mash:

Lost Friends

Violence through the eyes of Chicago’s youth

We asked the students around the table a question: Did they know anyone who had died in street violence? Every hand rose. A father. A prom date. A friend home from college. Classmates, mentors. People they loved, people who had watched out for them. Over the next several months, the students from Mash and True Star, two after-school journalism workshops, talked about their loss and what they are still learning from it. Here are their stories. Through their sadness, resentment and anger, all of them spoke of hope.

The rest of Lost Friends is here.

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“Mother’s Day When Your Mom’s in Prison”

The effects of incarceration are numerous – visible & subtle, long-lasting and comprehensive. Particularly, it is seldom that the majority of us are exposed to the stories of those children whose parents have been locked up. Incarceration affects the families and communities it touches psychologically, emotionally and physically–causing many children to lash out, sustaining this endless cycle of incarceration within the family unit alone.

We punish a child when we lock up her mom.

Huffington Post: “Most Americans take for granted the idea that they will succeed more than their parents did. But recently many studies have shown that Americans are not as socially mobile as their European counterparts. Nowhere are the consequences of that immobility so stark than in the criminal justice system.

Brave New Films’ newest short documentary, Vanessa’s Eight Year Sentence, follows a Bay Area teen with an incarcerated parent who is on the precarious edge of the system herself. When they took her mom away, Vanessa stopped caring. She acted out in school, got in trouble with the law, and ended up in a group home. By the time we met her, her mom only had a year left in her sentence, but Vanessa was one small mistake away from violating her probation and ending up in juvenile hall. Imagine the mother walking out of the walls of prison, only to see her child step in.

This cycle is one of the ways that incarceration becomes mass incarceration, where prison terms seem to be inherited from one generation to the next. Many of our documentaries have taught us that people caught up in the system have often been exposed to it early on, whether you run away from home in Oregon, or you follow your father’s path of addiction and incarceration in the Bronx.

There is way more to the story than “do the crime, do the time.” Vanessa’s mom was convicted of selling drugs and she had prior arrests. Having kids doesn’t grant you clemency in the eyes of the law, but it does mean that when we design a punishment for the parent, we automatically punish the child.”

Read the rest here.

Vanessa’s Eight Year Sentence (documentary featured in article)

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May 19 – Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth Kickoff March!

Please come out and join in an act of solidarity for the dignity of our youth!

NIA Dispatches: “Please join us and several other Chicago groups on Monday, May 19, at 5pm at Paderewski Elementary School at 2221 S. Lawndale Avenue (a school that was shut down by CPS last year) for an action and march to kick off the 2014 National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.

After sharing some poetry, hearing some speeches from young people, and participating in a symbolic collective action (using padlocks – so bring one or two with you), we will march to the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center on Roosevelt and Ogden (2.5 miles).

Marching from a closed school to the youth detention facility symbolizes our commitment to advocate for better use of public funds; namely more funding for schools and extracurricular activities, jobs and vocational skills development, behavioral and mental health services, community-based alternatives to incarceration, and other restorative justice measures.

Please join us and spread the word to your colleagues, youth, and friends. This timely action and march comes after the United Nations Human Rights Committee recently urged the United States to end the practice of transferring minors to adult court, and the Juvenile Justice Initiative issued its report on the devastating impact of transferring minors to adult court in Cook County.

Co-sponsors of the march include (please let us know if you would like to add your group to the list by emailing Mariame at

Black and Pink – Chicago
Black Youth Project 100 (Chicago Chapter)
Canaan Community Church
Circles and Ciphers
Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce
Chicago Freedom School
Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS)
Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women
Conscious Souls in Action at Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy
Gender JUST
Health and Medicine Policy Research Group
Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
Illinois Safe Schools Alliance
Kuumba Lynx
Lawndale Christian Legal Center
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO)
A Long Walk Home
Occupy Rogers Park
Overpass Light Brigade Chicago
Project NIA
Revolutionary Poets Brigade
Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (Francis W. Parker Chapter)
Sustainable Schools Action Team (Alliance for Climate Education)”


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“School reformers: zero-tolerance not the answer”

WKAR: “Last week, students and advocates rallied at the Michigan Capitol after marching from Detroit to Lansing on foot. Students’ marching hoped to raise awareness about the state’s school discipline policies. At the rally, they asked lawmakers to remove  legislation that requires zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools.

Many researchers and advocates argue that zero tolerance policies are not effective and harmful for students. A draft model policy that is under review by the State Board of Education recommends schools move away from zero-tolerance policies. The Board will likely vote on the draft next month.

Peri Stone-Palmquist is the Executive Director of the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan. The organization offers free non-legal support for students impacted by school discipline and zero tolerance. She says Michigan’s law is noticeably stricter than laws in other states in that Michigan doesn’t have an appeal process and doesn’t require that students continue to receive an education after they are expelled.”

Listen here.

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