MCLU Testifies In Support of LD 1658, "An Act To Increase Maine's High School Graduation Rate"

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
January 20, 2010 12:00 am

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MCLU Expresses Concern About Zero Tolerance Policies Impact on Student Success

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Today the Maine Civil Liberties Union testifies before the Joint Statnding Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs in support of Senator Justin Alfond’s bill to study the factors that influence Maine high school graduation rates. The MCLU expressed concerns about the growing trend of a “school-to-prison pipeline,” which diverts students from the educational system to the criminal justice system.

“The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the growing practice of criminalizing, rather than educating, our nation’s children, and is one of the most important civil rights challenges facing our nation today,” testified MCLU Public Policy Counsel Alysia Melnick.

For a graphical depiction of the school-to-prison pipeline, see: www.aclu.org/school-prison-pipeline-game

Earlier this year the MCLU issued an ACLU white paper with recommended policies to govern the authority of school resource officers, often members of law enforcement nested in public schools. That white paper is available at: www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/racialjustice/whitepaper_policinginschools.pdf

The MCLU has been working closely with Portland Public Schools on the issue of disciplinary policies, particularly with regards to students of color in Portland schools.

Below is the complete testimony of Melnick:

Senator Alfond, Representative Sutherland, and Members of the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, my name is Alysia Melnick. I am the Public Policy Counsel for the Maine Civil Liberties Union, a state-wide organization committed to advancing and preserving civil liberties in Maine. On behalf of the more than 3,300 members of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, I urge you to support LD 1658.

Specifically, the MCLU supports the Act’s creation of a stakeholder group to study and make recommendations regarding the impact of zero tolerance policies and the establishment of guidelines for school suspensions and expulsions.

Our concern in this area stems from research which shows that zero tolerance policies and disproportionate or inappropriate use of suspensions and expulsions contribute to the trend known as “the school-to-prison pipeline.” This pipeline refers to the growing practice of criminalizing, rather than educating, our nation’s children, and is one of the most important civil rights challenges facing our nation today.

Zero-tolerance disciplinary policies are often the first step in a child’s journey through the school-to-prison pipeline because they impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances or the long term consequences. Under these policies, children have been expelled for giving Midol to a classmate, bringing household goods (including a kitchen knife) to school to donate to Goodwill, and bringing scissors to class for an art project.

Further, there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies or overuse of suspensions and expulsions make schools safer or improve student behavior. On the contrary, research suggests that these practices may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct.

While we agree, overall, with the importance of exploring these issues, national research and data collected on Portland High School discipline records support the need for additional voices within the stakeholder group established by this bill.

In particular, special attention should be paid to the experiences and risks faced by students of color and students with disabilities.

In fact,

  • Students of color are disproportionately represented at every stage of the school-to-prison pipeline;
  • Students with special needs are particularly likely to be pushed out of mainstream schools and into the juvenile justice system, despite the heightened protections afforded to them under law;
  • And students who fit within both of these groups – minority students with disabilities – are most vulnerable.

For these reasons, it is crucial that at least one of the members of the stakeholder group represent the interests of students of color and at least one other represent the interests of students with special needs.

It is with that caveat that we urge you to pass LD 1658, which has the potential to provide guidance to Maine’s schools on how to avoid the destructive affects of the school-to-prison pipeline.

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