Do Black Lives Matter To Our Schools?

All children have the right to an education. However, harsh disciplinary practices regularly deprive students of that right through the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions—which often serve to feed students into the school-to-prison pipeline. Given the racial disparities in incarceration here in Louisiana, it should come as no surprise to read the recent School Discipline Consensus Report, which indicates that Black students are disproportionately disciplined in schools. However, we must not dismiss this report as simply more data but instead take it as a call to action. We must step up now for all the children in our community and demand change in our state’s schools and education policies.

Beyond teaching academics, schools should be teaching the values that we want our children, and all American citizens, to possess. They should be preparing students for adulthood. This means explicitly teaching conflict resolution, mediation, and how to make healthy choices. When we suspend students for arbitrary offenses like “willful disobedience,” we are saying to them: We do not want to deal with you. We do not want to teach you how to act. We do not want to help you learn how to modify your behavior, improve, and see success with us. This means that we are failing at our duty to help students grow, both academically and emotionally. We are in the early stages of acting like their lives don’t matter and can be thrown away for days at a time, spent playing video games at home or wandering the streets or, later, in a jail cell. We cannot send that message to our children.

Has your child been suspended or expelled? Please tell Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) about your experience here.
Photo courtesy of FFLIC.

Recently there have been rallies demanding a mayoral or gubernatorial response to crime in New Orleans. Who are the perpetrators of these crimes? Too often it’s the children and young adults who were failed by us, failed by their schools, suspended, expelled, pushed out, and forgotten. We must create the community we want to live in, and that means caring for everybody, regardless of the color of their skin, their family, or their background. What message does it send when we have given over 1,000 kindergarteners out-of-school suspensions in a single year? What message does it send when we have given up on them before they have even reached the first grade?

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), has been fighting to bring this issue to the forefront for years. We have long pushed the Governor to protect our children, and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to report their findings, follow federal guidelines, eliminate mandatory suspensions and expulsions, and remove the language of “willful disobedience” from the law. Schools in Louisiana are mandated to use Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and we are pushing to have training instituted for all teachers and school administrators. We are honored to partner in this struggle with a collection of other organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR), the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) and the National Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) and others, whose work has been invaluable in revealing the depth of disciplinary inequality here in Louisiana because it takes a village to support our children.

FFLIC also wants to center parents in discipline discussions in their children’s schools. Parents play a vital role in educating their children and, too often, they are left uninformed and perceived as a problem. How can we aim to educate children without also bringing in their families and engaging the whole community? When we begin to see our “troubled” students, who are so often our Black students, and our “troubled” families, as an equally important part of our education system, and of our society—then we can meaningfully disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and create a safer and more rigorous academic environment for everyone.