School-to-prison pipeline panelists explore methods of discipline for students

Three panelists spoke to the Columbia community about steps educators can take to provide more constructive discipline for students and keep their experiences with law enforcement positive.

A group of MU students held a panel about the school-to-prison pipeline, relating the pipeline to Columbia Public Schools on Nov. 4.

The panel consisted of Peter Stiepleman, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent, John Logan, Coordinator of Safety and Security with Columbia Public Schools and Kansas City, Mo based organizer for ACLU of Missouri, Justice Gatson. The students were enrolled in the LTC 4550: Assessment in Social Studies course and hosted the panel as a class project.

They presented the following scenario to the panel.

“Will thrives on attention, but didn’t always draw it in appropriate ways. When asked to stop acting out, Will didn’t. This got him sent to the office constantly. By the end of the year, Will had 19 office referrals.”

After the scenario about Will, the question “Would it be better to keep them in class and teach him more appropriate ways to get attention?” was proposed to the panel.

“Nineteen [office] referrals says to me there is no relationship between the teacher and that child,” Stiepleman said. “Have [they] talked to previous teachers? Do [they] have lunch with that child? Do [they] spend time with that child before or after school?”

The zero tolerance policy adopted by Columbia Public Schools is contradictory to Stiepleman’s statement. A zero tolerance policy refers to a disciplinary policy with predetermined, and typically severe, consequences for students when they act out in school, no matter the reasoning behind those actions. Stiepleman shifted the blame for the policy to the Missouri State Legislature saying some Missouri laws force his hand.

Zero tolerance policies may have predetermined consequences for certain actions, but determining if a student has acted inappropriately is still up to the teacher’s discretion. Gatson believes race determines many teachers’ opinions regarding punishments for certain behaviors.

“Black students are getting in trouble for child-like behavior [while] their white counterparts are not getting in trouble for the same kind of behavior,” Gatson said. “We need to start addressing bias. We need to start addressing racism. Teachers need to go through anti-bias training.”

Implementation of anti-bias training for teachers has started in many school districts, including Columbia Public Schools. Anti-bias training is one solution, but Gatson has another idea on how to solve racial problems in schools.

“Remove student resource officers from the school,” Gatson said. “They’re not trained [to work with students], they’re trained to arrest people.”

Not only are they trained to arrest people, the majority of those arrested are African American. Nationwide, African American boys are three times as likely to get arrested in schools as Caucasian boys, but African Americans only consist of 15.5% of students while 50.3% are Caucasian in the U.S. Logan hopes to help cut down on school-based arrests.

“Part of my job is to be a liaison between the school district and law enforcement,” Logan said. “We try to mediate as best as we can instead of just looking at law enforcement to do that.”

These few solutions could go a long way to ensure students have more positive interactions with law enforcement. Stiepleman believes Columbia Public Schools are moving in the right direction.

“I am proud of the work that we’re doing, but it doesn’t mean that we’re done,” Stiepleman said.

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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