Today, Virginia Organizing participated in the National Day of Empathy as part of the #cut50 campaign to reduce mass incarceration by 50 percent. The research shows school suspensions lead to a number of negative effects on students, including increased incarceration rates later in life and increased rates of drop out or repeating a grade.
We also know that students of color and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected by high suspension rates, zero tolerance policies, and intervention by a school resource officer (which often puts students directly on a path to the juvenile justice system). Virginia has the highest rate of student referral to law enforcement in the nation.
Because of this, Virginia Organizing is focusing on school discipline issues to disrupt the system of mass incarceration.
Will you help us take action? First, will you call your legislators and tell them that we need to do more at the state level to stop high rates of suspensions and referral to law enforcement? A bill was passed (HB1536) that limits suspension and expulsion of students in Pre-Kindergarten through third grade, but not before being watered down. All other bills addressing school discipline reform failed. You can find who represents you and their contact information here.
Then, will you call Dr. Scott Baker, Spotsylvania County Schools Superintendent, and thank him for taking the school-to-prison pipeline seriously? Dr. Baker and Spotsylvania Sheriff Roger Harris worked with Virginia Organizing to craft a new memorandum of understanding between schools and school resource officers (SROs) that refocuses SROs on actual criminal behavior instead of using these police officers to address non-criminal behavior and discipline issues that should be handled by school administration. Dr. Baker can be reached at 540-834-2500 (dial 0 and ask if you can leave a message for him; you’ll be transferred to his assistant who is very pleasant).
There are several other school board members and superintendents across the state who are working with Virginia Organizing to find solutions that work for students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community. Give your local school or School Board member a call and find out what they are doing to reduce suspensions and keep kids in schools. We’d love to hear more ideas!
Thanks for taking action!