HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — State officials are trying to find solutions to keep kids in school and out of the criminal justice system. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) is raising awareness about the school-to-prison pipeline and bringing together school and government officials to tackle the problem.
According to PHRC executive director Chad Dion Lassiter, school discipline policies like zero-tolerance policies are one factor in the school-to-prison pipeline.
“It removes students from learning opportunities,” he said. “I’ve never come across a young person that is bad. Young people are good and they have challenges.”
Lassiter said these policies don’t address the root of behavior problems.
“We don’t really do a deeper dive into some of the psychosocial factors,” he said. “We’re quick to expel a child, we’re quick to give a child an out-of-school suspension, in-school suspension.”
Lassiter said this repeatedly pushes students out of school, and that can lead to run-ins with the law.
“When you’re criminalizing them in school, it feeds them into the possibility of the prison system,” he said.
Lassiter also said this disproportionately impacts students of color.
PHRC is trying to get everyone involved in a solution, from families and communities to school officials and policymakers.
“It takes a healthy village to raise a healthy child,” Lassiter said.
The solution is not just about keeping kids in school. Lassiter said schools need to be a safe environment, with enough resources.
“We want to make sure they have teachers that are culturally relevant, we want to make sure that the school makeup is that of what the social demographics are,” he said.
Students also need a strong support system inside the classroom and out.
“That’s the importance of counselors, that’s the importance of social workers,” Lassiter said.
He added houses of faith, community elders and families are also an important part of a child’s support system.
Lassiter said PHRC wants to redirect the school-to-prison pipeline to more positive outcomes. A step forward is for school officials to avoid judging students only by their bad days.
“Let’s see the full humanity and let’s see the multiple identities that young people have,” he said.
As part of the effort to tackle the pipeline, PHRC is holding its second annual conference on April 26 and April 27. Attorneys, school principals, and other officials will speak about this issue.
The conference will be held virtually on Facebook Live and Zoom. For more information, click here.