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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777 W Cherokee Street
Catoosa, OK  74105
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Where:
River Spirit Casino - 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar
8330 Riverside Pkwy.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Cost: $5

Where:
The Venue Shrine
112 E. 18th St.
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 949-1345
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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:
Hunt Club
224 N Main St
Tulsa
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Telephone: (918) 599-9200
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Where:
Soundpony
409 N Main St
Tulsa
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Telephone: (918) 582-7669
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Where:
American Legion Post 308
11328 E Admiral Pl
Tulsa, OK
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Cost: $22-$37

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 Wine Loft
7890 E. 106th St. S.
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 970-4766
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Cost: $5-$7

Where:
Savage Space
1213 East Admiral Blvd.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Telephone: (918) 947-9806
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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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Business Casual.

Cost: $75, individual tickets; $750, tables of 10

Where:
Sky Room, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
777 W. Cherokee St.
Catoosa, OK
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Sponsor: Benefits Will Rogers Community Foundation
Telephone: 918-495-0742
Contact Name: Beth Abdo Dennis
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Cost: $75-$350

Where:
River Spirit Casino - Paradise Cove
8330 Riverside Pkwy.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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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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Where:
Utopia Bar & Lounge
3508 S Sheridan Rd
Tulsa, OK  74145
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Where:
The Beehive Lounge
2405 E. Admiral Blvd.
Tulsa, OK
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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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Spotlight Children‰Ûªs Theatre presents this world premiere play by Machele Miller Dill and Ed Dill.

Cost: $10

Where:
Tulsa Spotlight Theatre
1381 Riverside Dr
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 587-5030
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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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Dr. Kathy M. Campbell will facilitate this informative seminar. She will discuss hormones, their functions and how to keep in balance. Topic will include: eating and living for hormone balance....

Cost: $79.00

Where:
Medicap Pharmacy
130 S MAIN STREET
OWASSO, OK  74055
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Sponsor: Medicap Pharmacy
Telephone: 918-274-1737
Contact Name: Dena Wind
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This is an ORU Baseball Game   https://mabeecenter.com/oru-baseball-2017/

Cost: 14 // 11 // 7 plus 2 s/c

Where:
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
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Learn the haunted histories of some of the Brady Arts District's most notable pubs. High spirits guaranteed.

Where:
Brady Arts District
2-98 W M.B. Brady St
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Join us in celebrating local tulsan CYNTHIA MARCOUX!                    TOYS - A Caricature of Reality' With a seamless blend of whimsy and...

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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Lavish evening to revel in fine dining, lively dancing and plenty of surprises. Black Tie.

Cost: $1000, individual tickets; $2000-$100000, sponsorships

Where:
Cox Business Center
100 Civic Center
Tulsa, OK
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Sponsor: Benefits Mental Health Association Oklahoma Housing Programs
Telephone: 918-382-2410
Contact Name: Lisa Turner
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Nicole Carrington hosts this night of Bingo, with appearances by Rainbow Granny and Trailer Trash Teresa, and a Lip Sync Contest with DJ Crystal.

Cost: $15-$25

Where:
Dennis R. Neill Equality Center
621 East Fourth Street
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 743-4297
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  Join us in celebrating local tulsan CYNTHIA MARCOUX! TOYS - A Caricature of Reality' With a seamless blend of whimsy and social critique, Cynthia paints hyper realistic tableaus with a...

Cost: free

Where:
mainline art bar
111 n main st
tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: mainline art bar
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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 The University of Tulsa’s Department of Theatre will present a contemporary adaptation of the Greek comedy Lysistrataat 8 p.m. March 23-25 and at 2 p.m. March 26. All performances will...

Cost: $15

Where:
Lorton Performance Center
550 S Gary Place
Tulsa , OK  74104
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Telephone: 918-631-2566

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Where:
pH Community House
306 S. Phoenix Ave
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Where:
pH Community House
306 S. Phoenix Ave
Tulsa, OK  74127
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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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Where:
The Colony
2809 S Harvard Ave
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: (918) 794-4208
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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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Where:
Billy and Renee's
6373 E 31st St
Tulsa, OK
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Telephone: 918-836-0655
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Cost: $50-$85

Where:
Brady Theater
105 West Brady Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Cost: $49.50-$85

Where:
Brady Theater
105 West Brady Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Where:
Hunt Club
224 N Main St
Tulsa
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Telephone: (918) 599-9200
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Cost: $10-$12

Where:
The Beehive Lounge
2405 E. Admiral Blvd.
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:
River Spirit Casino - 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar
8330 Riverside Pkwy.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Live music, silent and live auctions, one-of-a-kind artwork by local artists and students. Black tie.

Cost: $100, individual tickets; $800, host a table; $250+ sponsorships

Where:
Tulsa Historical Society
2445 S. Peoria Ave.
Tulsa, OK
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Sponsor: Benefits Operation Aware of Oklahoma Inc.
Telephone: 9185827884 x. 103
Contact Name: Jeni Dolan
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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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Cost: $50-$165

Where:
River Spirit Casino - Paradise Cove
8330 Riverside Pkwy.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Where:
Soundpony
409 N Main St
Tulsa
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Telephone: (918) 582-7669
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Where:
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino - Riffs
777 W Cherokee Street
Catoosa, OK  74105
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Treasures and antiques await at over 200 booths.

Where:
Expo Square - Exchange Center
4145 E 21st St
Tulsa, OK
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Cost: $10-$12

Where:
The Beehive Lounge
2405 E. Admiral Blvd.
Tulsa, OK
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