In the past two years, Virginia Organizing Chapters have worked to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that has sent so many students unjustly into the juvenile justice system.
In Fredericksburg, this meant working with the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott Baker and Sheriff Roger Harris to change the duties of school resource officers who are law enforcement officers placed in schools.
“In Fredericksburg, Virginia Organizing worked hard with Dr. Baker and Sheriff Harris to stop the school-to-prison pipeline by addressing the relationship between school administration and the school resource officers. Spotsylvania County recently changed their memorandum of understanding with the sheriff’s office to make sure school resource officers are not arresting students for non-criminal behavior issues,” said Fredericksburg Chapter leader Eunice Haigler.
The Fredericksburg Chapter won their campaign and will continue monitoring to ensure that all students are being treated fairly and with dignity.
The Portsmouth Chapter had a town hall style meeting with Portsmouth Superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy this month to discuss suspensions and changes to school policies that would focus on positive behavioral interventions and restorative justice.
During the meeting, Tyran Green spoke about her experiences with the school system and suspensions.
“I am an involved parent trying to do what’s right for my child,” said Tyran. “I had no idea what resources were available to me until I started getting involved with Virginia Organizing. Then, I found out the steps I could take to help my family.”
Tyran said to Virginia Organizing, “I shouldn’t have to fight so hard for my child to be able to get an education — we need to change the systems so that students are staying in the classrooms instead of interrupting their learning. I’m encouraged that Portsmouth is taking this seriously and working to create better solutions and less suspensions.”
During the meeting, Dr. Bracy provided a basic training for parents who want to fight suspensions and expulsions, discussed his plan to work with the School Board to revise the student code of conduct, and introduced some of the ideas being piloted at a local school as alternatives to suspensions.
Teachers who attended the meeting are excited to join the calls to action and want to work with Virginia Organizing to address the issues they are seeing in their own classrooms.
While this work is still in the early stages, it is encouraging to see school officials, teachers, parents, students, and community members engaged in the process of creating lasting change to the suspension policies and disrupt mechanisms that put students at increased risk of incarceration.