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Box 6038 Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456-0038 757. Salem High student stars in new ‘Tanked Jr. What sears the image in our memory are her surroundings: four federal marshals, assigned to protect her as she makes her way through a hostile crowd. Were the painting done today, it might show law enforcement acting in a very different capacity. Instead of leading a black child safely into school, the image might very well be of police officers escorting a child out.
Police officers have become a regular and growing presence in schools across America, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Sixty years after the Brown decision, de facto segregation persists because of a complex web of factors rooted in our nation’s long history of discrimination. But segregation is only one of the issues faced by students of color. Another factor is the persistent misperception that students of color are inherently more dangerous. Whatever the cause, the effects of the pipeline are both damaging and unfair. These policies have contributed to the criminalization of the classroom, whereby small infractions that would in the past have led to a trip to the principal’s office and a sharp warning or detention, now become the basis for out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or, increasingly, a trip to the police station. The transformation of schools from institutions of learning to places more reminiscent of prisons exacts a daily toll on all students.
The clearest indication of this criminalization has been the proliferation of law enforcement in our schools. Instead of investing in guidance counselors and librarians, school districts are pouring money into school resource officers to patrol schools, permanent metal detectors and state-of-the-art surveillance systems. Fifteen-year-old Kyle Thompson is one such victim. A year ago, the black freshman got into a playful tug-of-war with his teacher over a note. When Kyle saw the situation had turned from lighthearted to serious in a flash, he dutifully handed the note to his teacher. The impact on students like Kyle is severe and long-lasting. Pushing children down the school-to-prison pipeline by taking them out of school and placing them in the criminal justice or juvenile detention system all but eliminates their chances of getting into college or even graduating from high school.
These policies, statistics show, disproportionately affect black students. Board case was a major step forward for Civil Rights. Parker also comments on a new report that suggests some of the progress is slipping. Nevertheless, black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students, according to data recently released by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.
The harmful impact is not limited to those students actually expelled from schools. Children get the message, and it angers them and tears at their self-esteem. In 1954, the problems of racial discrimination were explicit. Today they are subtle and structural.