Oklahoma’s school-to-prison pipeline

Reimagining discipline in Oklahoma public schools



Georgia Brooks

 

“When schools are suspending students at high rates, we are, in fact, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. (African-American students) are significantly more likely to be suspended than students of another race.” 

— Former Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard, as reported in Sept. 11, 2015 edition of The Oklahoman 

 

Schools too often problematize students of color and exclude them. The disproportionate punishment of students of color in general, and young black males in particular, appears strikingly evident in both the Tulsa and Oklahoma City school districts, according to a 2015 report from The Oklahoman. This raises concerns about fairness and justice. 

Nationally, schools suspend and expel three times more black primary and secondary school students than white students, as reported to the Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR). American Indian and Native Alaskan students comprise less than 1 percent of the student population, yet account for 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions. Others students of color also experience disproportionate disciplinary sanctions. The U.S. Department of Education reports imbalances in school discipline begin as early as pre-K.

These early discrepancies in how schools mete out punishment seed down-the-line hardships for disciplined students and social problems for communities. In 2015, the Civil Rights Project said the staggering and foreseeable consequences borne by suspended and expelled students include: learning deficits, an enhanced risk of becoming high school dropouts and a predisposition toward criminality.

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy defines the school-to-prison pipeline as “a social phenomenon where legal policies, education policies and social constructs funnel struggling children from schools to jails and prisons.”

Contributing factors to the school-to-prison pipeline include poverty, implicit bias, school policies (e.g., zero-tolerance, overemphasis on testing), ineffective strategies for meeting the needs of students with disabilities and the failure to address trauma-related issues tied to the destruction of traditional Native American cultures. 

The Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the USCCR hosted public hearings in 2015 on the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The USCCR is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with studying and advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing federal civil rights enforcement reports. 

School administrators, teachers, legal professionals, nonprofit organizations, academics and advocates offered verbal and written testimony. The Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the USCCR sought to determine the extent to which the application of school disciplinary and juvenile justice policies in Oklahoma discriminatorily impact students on the basis of race, color and/or sex. 

The Center for American Progress said that due in part to the pipeline, consignment to confinement now seems a mathematical probability for boys of color. “C” for convict has become the 21st century scarlet letter. 

Dr. Paul Ketchum, professor of criminal justice at the University of Oklahoma, noted that the race of the offender more profoundly influences the severity of juvenile court referrals, expulsions and school-based arrests than does the offense itself. There is nothing to suggest that nonwhite students have worse behavioral problems than white students, though nonwhite students have disproportionate contact with “the system.” This leaves boys of color academically delayed, disinterested and virtually abandoned by educators. They drop out, not just from school, but from productive life — a vicious cycle begun. 

For African Americans, the school-to-prison pipeline represents just one facet of “the New Jim Crow”: a latticework of laws, policies and practices that ensnare thousands of black men in the system’s vortex. That entanglement leads inexorably to incarceration and, with it, a pariah-like, lifelong status. This near-death spiral captures children, families and communities in a web of poverty and privation that saps our nation’s productivity and prosperity. Life in lockup adversely affects individual and family prospects across generations.

The Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the USCCR made several recommendations:

  • A national study on the impact of school funding on race/color-based gaps in educational outcomes
  • Uniform licensing requirements to ensure that all law enforcement officers working in schools are properly trained and equipped to respond in an age-appropriate manner
  • State-imposed mandatory disciplinary policy reforms for schools with significant disparities in disciplinary actions on the basis of race, color or disability (e.g., cultural competence/implicit bias training)
  • School district-initiated measures to ensure that students receive a quality educational experience, even if in the context of an alternative schooling arrangement.  

Disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline is both imperative and urgent. We must act with dispatch and decisiveness to reimagine discipline in Oklahoma public schools. 

The Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the USCCR seeks to foster constructive dialogue leading to the creation and implementation of strategies that slow, and ultimately eliminate, the school-to-prison pipeline. The operative assumption is that knowledge-sharing must precede behavior modification.

The Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the USCCR conveyed its recommendations to its headquarters in Washington, D.C., together with a request to disseminate the suggestions to the following federal agencies with relevant jurisdiction: The Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights; the Department of Education, Office of Indian Education; and the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In addition, the proposals will be shared with Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation and public schools.

Local and state leaders should continue to monitor school discipline data and consider appropriate site and/or system-based interventions designed to reduce significant disparities in the application of discipline, especially suspensions and expulsions. Concerned individuals should request demographic discipline data from school boards and school administrators from which they may determine the prevalence and significance of a school-to-prison pipeline. Apathy and a lack of transparency serve no one’s interest.

Schools have begun to grapple with this troublesome issue. In July 2016, Tulsa Public Schools adopted new student discipline guidelines that introduced alternatives to suspension for less serious offenses. The TPS Board of Education adopted the TPS Behavior Response Plan for 2016-2017. This plan reflects a new disciplinary approach emphasizing intervention over punishment in appropriate cases. While much remains to be done, such progress should spark hope and provide the foundation for a continued commitment to identify sustainable solutions.

Visit usccr.gov for more information on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

 

 

 

Hannibal B. Johnson, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is an attorney, author, consultant and college professor. He serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and is the author of books on African-American history and culture.   

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June 2017

Kids can decorate and plant a grass seed head for dad.  Drop-in activity 1 – 4pm, while supplies last. Tulsa Botanic Garden is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and...

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More information

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777 W Cherokee Street
Catoosa, OK  74105
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Where:
Hunt Club
224 N Main St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 599-9200
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Cost: $10

Where:
The Venue Shrine
112 E. 18th St.
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 949-1345
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Where:
Zin Urban Lounge
111 N. Main St.
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 500-3958
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Where:
Zin Urban Lounge
111 N. Main St.
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 500-3958
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Where:
The Boxyard
502 East Third Street
Tulsa, OK
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The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges presents their annual Polo Match.

Cost: $10-$25

Where:
Mohawk Park
5701 E 36th St N
Tulsa, OK
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Join us and celebrate RTTÕs 20th year for Rebuild the Block (formerly the Annual Rebuild Day). To celebrate our 20th year of service, sponsoring teams will have the opportunity to participate in a...

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Benefits Rebuilding Together Tulsa
Telephone: 918-742-6241
Contact Name: Deanna Boston
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As one of the most unique fundraisers in Tulsa, 2017 event will once again be a weekend fit for a king with a VIP Friday night Reception and the polo match on Saturday mid morning. We will have a...

Cost: $25 adult general admission and $10 for children

Where:
Mohawk Park
5701 E. 36th Street North
Tulsa, OK
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Sponsor: Benefits The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges
Telephone: 918-794-4506
Contact Name: Erin Wambold
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This seminar will be facilitated by Dr. Kathy Campbell, PharmD. She will talk about hormones, their functions and how you can get them in balance. This is a very informative discussion that will...

Cost: 79.00

Where:
Medicap Pharmacy
130 S MAIN STREET
, OK  74055
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Sponsor: Medicap Pharmacy
Telephone: 918-274-1737
Contact Name: Dena
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Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s national signature activity and the nation’s highest grossing fundraiser. This community event, which is free and open to the public,...

Cost: Free

Where:
River West Festival Park
2100 S Jackson Ave
Tulsa, OK  74107
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Sponsor: American Cancer Society
Telephone: 918-477-5411
Contact Name: Ashton Yancey
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Cost: $10

Where:
Memorial High School - Lafortune Stadium
5840 S Hudson Ave
Tulsa, OK
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It's our favorite month of the year!   Time again to celebrate our anniversary with an annual exhibit presented by local artist collective E.T.A!!      E.T.A.’s...

Cost: free

Where:
MAINLINE ART BAR
111 n. main st.
tulsa, OK  74103
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Telephone: 918-704-3330
Contact Name: katy eagleston

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The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS) hosts a Swing dance and lessons  The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS) is the only UNESCO recognized dance organization in Oklahoma.  We are a 501c3...

Cost: $7

Where:
Community Center - South Minister Presby Church
3500 So Peoria
1/2 west of Peoria, on 35pl behind the church
Tulsa, OK  74102
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Sponsor: The Ok Swing Syndicate
Telephone: 918-450-691
Contact Name: Rita Robbins
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Come cheer on the Tulsa Athletic, Tulsa's semi professional soccer team, as they take on Dallas City FC

Cost: $10

Where:
LaFortune Stadium
5840 S Hudson Ave
Tulsa, OK  74135
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Sponsor: Tulsa Athletic
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Where:
Four Aces Tavern
11035 E 41st St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 664-5656

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Where:
River Spirit Casino - 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar
8330 Riverside Pkwy.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Where:
The Wine Loft
7890 E. 106th St. S.
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 970-4766
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Where:
Hunt Club
224 N Main St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 599-9200
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One of the largest antique shows in the country, Tulsa Antique & Bottle Club's annual show is in its 40th year.

Where:
Expo Square
4145 E 21st St
Tulsa, OK
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Cost: $10

Where:
Comedy Parlor
328 E 1st St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 921-3535
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Where:
Lefty's On Greenwood
10 N Greenwood Ave
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 794-0017
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Cost: $5-$15

Where:
ONEOK Field
201 N. Elgin Ave
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Where:
Billy and Renee's
6373 E 31st St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: 918-836-0655
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Where:
Soundpony
409 N Main St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 582-7669
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Making plans for this weekend? You can't do better than The Drunkard & The Olio at the historic Spotlight Theater. You know you've always wanted to go, and now's your chance. And if...

Cost: Adults $20, kids $12, seniors & military $17

Where:
Spotlight Theater
1381 Riverside Dr.
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Cost: $20-$35

Where:
Cain's Ballroom
423 North Main Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Telephone: 918.584.2306
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Cost: $20-$35

Where:
Cain's Ballroom
423 North Main Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Telephone: 918.584.2306
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Where:
Mercury Lounge
1747 S Boston Ave
Tulsa, OK
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Where:
The Blackbird on Pearl
1336 E 6th St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 949-1345
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Where:
The Fur Shop
520 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 949-4292
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Rebecca Ungerman presents an autobiographical one-woman show with songs, stories, and secrets.

Cost: $20-$30

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St.
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Telephone: 918.596.7122
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Where:
River Spirit Casino - Volcano Stage
8330 Riverside Pkwy.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Where:
VFW Post 577 - Centennial Lounge
1109 E 6th St
Tulsa, OK
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Cost: $60-$70

Where:
River Spirit Casino - Paradise Cove
8330 Riverside Pkwy.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Cost: $17-$20

Where:
Vanguard
222 N Main St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (319) 804-9727
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Where:
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino - Cabin Creek
777 W Cherokee Street
Catoosa, OK  74105
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Where:
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino - Riffs
777 W Cherokee Street
Catoosa, OK  74105
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Cost: $39.50-$89.50

Where:
Brady Theater
105 West Brady Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Where:
Soul City
1621 E 11th St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 607-6005
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