Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 9, 2010

Speech about 'school-to-prison pipeline'

Some suspended, expelled students end up in prison

By VANESSA McCRAY
vmccray@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — A Detroit-based attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan will give a local presentation about students trapped in the "school-to-prison pipeline."

ACLU Racial Justice Project attorney Mark Fancher will discuss why and how some students expelled or suspended from school end up in prison during a 7 p.m. Nov. 18 event at the Traverse Area District Library.

The school-to-prison pipeline "refers to the correlation between the exclusion of students from school by way of suspension or expulsion, and ultimate involvement in the criminal justice system," Fancher said.

In 2009, the state's ACLU released a report based on Freedom of Information Act requests to school districts; student, parent and educator interviews; and other sources. The report found that black students were disproportionately expelled from schools, Fancher said. Also of concern to the group is the state's "expanded" scope of a federal zero tolerance expulsion law to include not just firearm possession but also other "weapons."

The due process given to a student to defend himself in disciplinary cases also differs greatly among districts, he said. And, schools are involving the police in matters such as school fights, Fancher said.

"(That) results in kids ending up in the system even before they've been fully excluded from the school," he said.

Fancher urged uniform due process policies and greater "cross-cultural understanding of everyone in the school community." Schools also should consider peer mediation and school discipline that does not involve exclusion from class, he said.

The Traverse City presentation is free and open to the public. Sign up online at www.aclumich.org. The event is sponsored by the local Michigan ACLU branch.