Mississippi is on to something amazing. In an effort to reform the disciplinary process and stop the school-to-prison pipeline in Meridien County Mississippi, the Justice Department and the Meridien Public school District came to an agreement to cut school expulsions, suspensions, and police intervention for its mostly black students. Colorlines.com reports:
“In March, the Justice Department reached agreement with the Meridian Public School District to decrease excessive suspensions and expulsions of mostly young black students for trivial infractions like wearing the wrong colored socks. Kids were lucky if they were only suspended — in many of these cases, schools called the police to arrest the students, as young as 10 years old, and send them to juvenile facilities, as reporter Julianne Hing found last November.
This consent decree essentially cancels most, if not all, police intervention for any issues that can be “safely and appropriately handled under school disciplinary procedures.” This includes: disorderly conduct, school disturbances and disruptions, loitering, trespassing, profanity, dress code violations, and fighting that doesn’t include physical injury or weapons. Further, the school district can not share any information on students’ discipline records with any law enforcement agency unless court-ordered. It also requires schools to track discipline data, including by race, and then take corrective action if they find racial disparities. “
This is a huge step in working to get rid of institutionalized procedures that systematically and unlawfully target black students. The school-to-prison pipeline works to uphold racist inequalities by perpetuating the criminalization of people of color, literally and symbolically. In doing so the education and criminal justice system limit the access that young students of color have to further education and career opportunities.
I am excited about the prospect of similar policies coming to other areas. According to the report, ”Jocelyn Samuels, deputy assistant attorney general for DOJ’s civil rights division, told Hing that Meridian ‘is just the tip of the iceberg,’ and that this consent decree could be a model for tackling the national problem of excessive punishment of black students.” God knows we need in far too many places. Acknowledging this as a national issue is a very important first step in changing the way we treat black and brown students across the nation.