Lopsided School Discipline Leading to Prison Pipeline

Nicole F. MunsonBy Nicole F. Monson.

Almost twenty years ago the San Bernardino City Unified School District instituted a discipline system wherein children began to receive Citations for behavioral infractions made in school.

These Citations represented misdemeanor and felony charges that would ultimately become a part of permanent record for millions of children affected by this harsh reality.

In a Huffington Post article, “An Epidemic of Questionable Arrests by School Police” the author noted that there were, “tens of thousands of juveniles arrested by school police in San Bernardino County over the last decade. The arrests were so numerous in this high-desert region known as the Inland Empire that they surpassed arrests of juveniles by municipal police in some of California’s biggest cities”.  Essentially, the future of too many black and brown children has been adversely affected by childhood choices that should have remained in adolescent memory.

Today, Mr. Danny Tillman, a San Bernardino City Unified School District Board Member is doing his best to dismantle the lopsided form of discipline and justice suffered by his district’s seventy-three schools and 50,000 students.  Sitting as the sole remaining member from the 1997 board, he feels a certain calling for changing the climate of unequal justice suffered by his students.

A few years back, Tillman was alerted by a concerned citizen that he was, “contributing to the school to prison pipeline.”  Time (shouldn’t this be “Tillman”, otherwise this sentence doesn’t make sense) was telling how years of unjust sentencing was effecting a dense population of students entering adulthood… They had records among other stigmas that were standing in the way of employment and “successful” living.  According to him these citations “were ridiculously eliminating opportunities to succeed in life.”

If you were unaware, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines the school-to-prison pipeline as “the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education.” We are to understand that this is a very tangible and debilitating truth.

In Tillman’s attempt to further illustrate the consequence of student citations, he recalled a young boy “snatching a phone out of a classmate’s hand in the fifth grade who received a misdemeanor [for the act].”  That child grew to become a Howard University student who was unable to secure an internship with the Capitol because of the citation from his childhood, an otherwise clean record.  Talk about standing in the way of success.  But at least he made it to college right? Others aren’t so lucky.  According to Tillman and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), “Over the course of ten years there were 108 students under the age of ten that had a felony on their record.”  What could someone under the age of 10 possibly know about a felony?

To put this all into perspective, imagine if you will, looking into the eyes of a child… you should see promise, innocence and a world of possibilities lying before them.  You would hope that their adolescence is filled with learning experiences that usher them into adulthood knowing how to make good choices and live responsibly. You would not however like to witness the destruction of their opportunities for childlike behavior.  Ultimately, the future of the San Bernardino School District students will be up to parents, citizens and organization to do the right thing.   Hopefully, policy is looking up for Tillman and the students of the District with a more progressive board membership in tow.  They have instituted a system of intervention in hopes of creating individuals that do not get citations period.

As per The Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support model or PBIS “is based on principles of applied behavior analysis and the prevention approach and values of positive behavior support.” It is a method in decent contrast to the punitive model that is failing in creating the productive and unencumbered citizens we wish will contribute to a healthy society.  While this may be a good precursor it does little to fully address the issue. Children should just not get permanent record tickets for acts associated with being a child and growing up.   Something is amiss if their peers across the country do not experience the same disciplinary repercussions.

According to the Huffington Post, though in 2013 and 2014, the Los Angeles and San Francisco school districts signed into agreement that discipline is the responsibility of educators, not police, “last year, based on state records, San Bernardino school cops still arrested more kids than municipal cops in Sacramento, Oakland or San Francisco.”  The playing field remains uneven.