NEA Takes a Stand on the School-to-Prison Pipeline

NEA Vice President Becky Pringle delivers the reports on institutional racism to delegates to the 2016 RA.

The delegates to the 2016 Representative Assembly voted today on a new NEA Policy Statement on school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. NEA Vice President Rebecca S. Pringle and NEA Executive Committee Member Kevin F. Gilbert gave a compelling presentation to the RA delegation, encouraging the body to vote yes on the policy statement.

The policy stems from last year’s RA, which passed a New Business Item (NBI B) that directed the Association to combat Institutional Racism, and spot­light systemic patterns of racism and educational injustice that impact students—and to take action to enhance access and opportunity by demanding changes to policies, programs, and practices that condone or ignore unequal treatment and hinder student success.

“The NEA-ATA merger, which we commemorated at this Representative Assembly ensured that NEA would keep social justice advocacy at the forefront of its mission to provide quality public education for all of America’s students,” said Pringle. “Our focused work on Institutional Racism was another step in keeping that commitment.”

The work around school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline will rest on building awareness, educating members and the community, and partnering with affiliates and members to take action.

A committee of NEA leaders spent a year studying the school-to-prison pipeline, and recognized that this is a direct result of Institutional Racism and intolerance. The group convened this past spring to develop a policy statement to address this issue at the 2016 RA. The committee was chaired by Pringle and Mississippi’s Gilbert. Committee members hailed from across the country: South Carolina, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Idaho, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, North Carolina, Nevada, Michigan, Oregon, and New Jersey.

The school-to-prison policy statement calls attention to policies and practices that push many students out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, such as zero-tolerance discipline, increased police pres­ence in classrooms and hallways, insufficient services and support, and rising class sizes.

Gilbert shared the story of a young man from Mississippi who spent 21 days in a juvenile detention center for a little more than talking back in class. “He,” said Gilbert “is not alone.”

The policy statement is framed as a call to action that compels the 3-million-member NEA to embrace the vote and help to create awareness of the school-to-prison pipeline by educating educators and the public about the striking disparities among those most affected by it.

These policies and actions have led to the disproportionate removal from school of students of color, including those who identify as LGBTQ, have disabilities, or are English Language Learners.

“We have an opportunity to be leaders on this issue, and steer our students away from criminal punishment and toward the success we all wish for them,” said Gilbert. “Students belong in the school house, not the jail house,” he added.

The committee recommended that NEA create a campaign of awareness and advocacy to address and end the school-to-prison pipeline. The campaign tasks the Association to educate educators, parents, policy makers, elected leaders, and community members about the existence of problems and disparities in school discipline. Educators will receive training and professional development to help remedy these disparities. Moreover, NEA will develop model discipline policies and guidance to help implement successful discipline strategies based on restorative justice and other just discipline practices.

Five guiding principles will drive this work: Eliminating Disparities in Discipline Practices; Creating a Supportive and Nurturing School Climate; Professional Training and Development; Partnerships and Community Engagement; and Student and Family Engagement.

“We’ve done a lot this year, but we have so much work ahead of us,” said Pringle. “We are making a long-term investment. An investment that will command persistence and struggle and commitment and a whole lot of work from every single one of us….This, NEA, is a movement moment….all our students are depending on us.”

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