CONTRIBUTED BY SAMANTHA HUGHES
SUNDAY 11/18 | The Support Center for Child Advocates and the Institute of Disabilities of Temple University have been awarded a grant funded by the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council (PADDC) to study and hopefully curtail the devastating effects of what has become known in the United States as the school to prison pipeline. They plan to develop a cohesive model of reentry while also training school officials and family members to become a support system for the student attempting to enter a new schooling district.
The School to Prison Pipeline is a disturbing national trend wherein many children in underserved communities are funneled out of school due to a variety of economic and social conditions, often only to end up in the juvenile and and criminal justice system. Due to bureaucratic difficulties associated with re-entering the school system, this often results in a vicious cycle where teens and young adults are shuffled between various schools and institutions, if they make it back into the system at all. Many of the children most vulnerable to this route are those who have histories of learning disabilities, poverty, abuse and neglect. Instead of gaining the additional education support they need, many schools enact ‘zero tolerance’ policies and a heavy police presence that can see students ejected from the classroom.
The bureaucratic problems often take hold once a student who was previously removed school for one reason or another–whether due to a move or due to punitive action–attempts to re-enter the educational system. Due to discrepancies that arise within paperwork, such as immunization and academic records, many of these students are kept from coming back to school once they leave – giving rise to this insidious problem.
These policies are also known to affect minority groups – especially black students – at a notably higher rate than other demographics, with nearly one in six African-American students being suspended or expelled from school in 2009-2010 and nearly 22 out of every 100 Black students who had disabilities being suspended at least once, according to a report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. This rate is about three times greater than expulsion and suspension for white students. The majority of these punishments are handed out for non-violent infractions such as being disruptive or disrespectful, tardiness, profanity or dress code violations.
Frank Cervone, the executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, in an interview with WHIP’s Rational Radio on Wednesday, stated that “The pipeline is really a slippery slope. And once the kid gets on that slope, it’s hard to kind of arrest the slide. So what we see is that this is happening nationally, it is not just in big cities, it’s not just with minority groups–though we see a higher rate in big cities with minority youth.”
Philadelphia is specifically susceptible to these institutional problems due to its scale, as are many cities in the US. Cervone pointed out that there are about 6,000 kids in foster care in the city today, around 3,000-4,000 of which are involved with the justice system in some capacity. With a population of almost 10,000 students in communities that may be affected, nearly half that population may be vulnerable to the effects of the school to prison pipeline.
Efforts are being made to attempt to stop this epidemic institutional problem, or at least stem some of its more severe effects on youth. Frank Cervone and the Support Center for Child Advocates and the Institute on Disabilities of Temple University aim to use their recently awarded grant to craft a protocol that can be used across broad situations to standardize a process for these displaced children being absorbed back into the educational system. This will hopefully help to alleviate the aggravating issue of paperwork being misplaced or lost once a child is ready to start at a new school, a crucial step toward providing these children with the help they need. As Frank Cervone put it on Wednesday, “Every child is supposed to be in school, every child is supposed to be in the right school, and every child is supposed to be on track to finishing school.”