School to Prison Pipeline Conference

On Tuesday August 11th the CHRO, along with its two co-sponsors the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance and UCONN Human Rights Institute at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, hosted a much anticipated conference to address the School to Prison Pipeline — an issue that is plaguing the nation.

The School to Prison Pipeline refers to the harsh policies and practices that push the nation’s schoolchildren out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This disturbing phenomenon disproportionally impacts students of color and students with history of poverty, abuse, neglect, and emotional disabilities. This especially concerns under-resourced schools, as well as schools that use zero-tolerance policies to criminalize minor infractions of school rules and utilize police enforcement to discipline and punish students.

The conference attendees were addressed by Governor Dannel Malloy, who talked about his Second Chance Initiative and its impact among residents of Connecticut. There was also a keynote address by Dr. Bill Howe, retired State Title IX Coordinator/Civil Rights Compliance for the Connecticut State Department of Education, who emphasized how the school to prison pipeline is an important issue in Connecticut that needs to be addressed and how Connecticut has made considerable strides, but more progresses is required.

With the help of ten panelists Christine Perra Rapillo, Steven Hernandez, Dr. Ken Anthony, Feng An, Michelle Dumas Keuler, Mike Lawlor, David McGuire, Marisa Mascolo Halm, Dawn Yuster and Cheryl A. Sharp, the Commission, along with those in attendance, sought to come up with possible solutions to choke and eventually stop the pipeline all together.

It was the aim of the Commission to bring the victims and advocates together into one room to explore options for choking the pipeline. Those advocates included the Center for Children’s Advocacy (www.kidscounsel.org), the EEOC (http://www.eeoc.gov/), the CHRO (http://www.ct.gov/chro/site/default.asp), the ACLU (http://www.acluct.org/), the State Education Resource Center of Connecticut (http://www.ctserc.org/), and the Department of Education (http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/site/default.asp), among others.

One of the featured sections of the program may have had the biggest impact on the standing room only crowd, and that was hearing from three Connecticut students about their experiences.   Jonysah Bouknight, Amir Sena, and Ibrahim Adegona all talked about how the school to prison pipeline has personally affected them and negatively impacted their lives. Jonysah spoke about the unequal treatment she received because of her race when she was involved in a disagreement at school. Amir talked about how there are officers at his school who treat him differently. Ibrahim shared how he was a great student, on the student council and had a bright future.  He said that after going through tough time in his junior year he started to miss school, his grades suffered and he was not offered help.  Instead he was vilified.  He was suspended for ten days at a time, and there were times when his parents were not even notified of his suspension. He was then arrested on school grounds because he got into a verbal argument with his girlfriend off of school grounds. He went on to state that all he needed was help, but there was no help to be found.

The Commission is out front and center on this issue because over the past few years there has been a rapid increase in the number of complaints filed against schools for disparate treatment of student’s based on race, color and/or national origin, failure to accommodate students with disabilities and discriminatory bullying.  “We want to be a part of the conversation and support initiatives that will serve to choke the pipeline and ensure a quality and equitable education for all of Connecticut’s students irrespective of their protected class”, said, Cheryl Sharp, Deputy Director of the CHRO.

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