Blog | March 29, 2017

School Discipline Reform in Jackson, Mississippi

Extreme school discipline is a problem. The second-largest school district in Mississippi is just one example.

America is mired in a school discipline crisis. In essence, public schools are hindering the success of children by employing harsh disciplinary practices. Zero-tolerance school discipline policies not only exclude students from the classroom (thereby reducing learning opportunities), but then trap children in the school-to-prison pipeline—too often for trivial misbehaviors. Whether it is a dress code violation, profane language, or the vague “disorderly conduct,” young people are being suspended in-school, out-of-school, placed in alternative schools, then eventually herded into juvenile detention centers and into the revolving door of the criminal justice system.

The disciplinary deck is also unfairly stacked against youth of color. According to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black students are disproportionately suspended, expelled, and referred to the criminal justice system by schools. Nationally, 1.2 million black students were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year – more than half of those suspensions occurred in 13 Southern states.

The more than 5,000 members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids—all seasoned police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors with decades of law enforcement experience under their belt—know firsthand that it pays to invest in reforming overly harsh school discipline reform now, rather than deal with the consequences of funneling more youth in the juvenile justice system.

Black students are disproportionately suspended, expelled, and referred to the criminal justice system by schools

Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights

This issue brings Fight Crime to Mississippi, where the straits are especially dire. Across Mississippi, several school districts had suspension rates more than 9 times the national average. In stark contrast to the state’s low rankings for student achievement and per capita income (dead last), Mississippi has the highest suspension rate for elementary schools (and the second highest for high schools).

The capital city of Jackson is home to the second-largest school district in Mississippi, and the suspension rate there is just as problematic. Out of nearly 30,000 majority-black students, nearly 3,000 suspensions happened in 2016 school year. That’s one out of every 10 students. By way of example, staff at one school regularly handcuffed students to metal railings in the school gym for hours for not wearing a belt, among other minor infractions. (A lawsuit later stopped the practice.)

school discipline

No one is saying that schools shouldn’t have some disciplinary practices on the books. In a recent poll, 43 percent of Jackson Public School (JPS) district teachers say they felt unsafe. “Some students attack teachers here when they can’t problem solve,” relays one teacher in the JPS survey. But the punishment shouldn’t outweigh the infraction.

Things have gotten so bad in Jackson that the school district has been placed under receivership by the Mississippi Department of Education, which means that it could soon be taken over by the state. The embattled superintendent was forced to resign last year, leaving the school administration virtually rudderless until a new superintendent is hired. Meanwhile, suspension rates remain high, while graduation rates remain low. In fact, one high school in Jackson reported that they have nine 20-year-olds in the 11th grade. So, things in Jackson need to change—and soon.


About this blog series

Stay tuned as we shed more light on the challenges of tackling overly harsh school discipline policies, and what parents and the community can do to ensure that youth grow up to be productive citizens—avoiding the costlier path to crime.

Next, we’ll feature interviews with a high school principal in Jackson, and a Mississippi lawyer about the current school climate—and what they’re doing to bring positive change to their communities.

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  1. School Discipline

States

  1. Mississippi