New York, NY — Exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are starkly reminded that Black people have endured varying progressions of state-sponsored terrorism for centuries. Many classrooms across the United States are microcosms of that history overlaid on the neighborhoods in which they are based. Gross, structural disparities in resource allocation along with rampant institutional racism and a lack of political will create the conditions for some communities to exist as a seemingly permanent underclass. Neighborhoods and schools mirror one another; with restrictive, punitive and criminalizing policies for poor, working-class Black and brown communities, compared to lenient, forgiving and supportive policies for their more affluent white counterparts. As currently constructed, we don’t merely have an unequal system of education, we have opposing systems of education; one that sets children up to take over positions of power in society, and one that often sends them down a pipeline to prison and poverty.
We need a comprehensive paradigm shift inside and outside of the classroom. We must look at every aspect of our educational system, including how schools are funded and governed, who has access to which schools at what cost, how safety is defined and created in schools, and the metrics by which students, teachers, schools and school districts are determined to be successful. As communities across the country demand the defunding of police and investment in equitable education and community-controlled systems of care, we have the opportunity to demand real transformational change in our education systems and beyond. In the spirit of achieving genuine equality, we must honor and uplift the historical and prevailing reality of bodily subjugation and hyper-exploitation of Black lives by this country. Transformative justice must include reparations for descendants of enslaved people, in order to begin to right the many wrongs that continue to fester and thrive in our society today.
By situating the pursuit of education justice within a human rights framework, our work is in concert with the pursuit of social justice, political empowerment, and racial equity. Our membership does not believe that education is merely for the attainment of jobs and wealth. We believe the purpose of education is to support young people to be responsible stewards of power and contributors to society. Young people always inherit, adopt and transform the institutions of our society. They are simultaneously our present and our future. We educate to develop the skills necessary to identify and address the root causes of social, economic and political ill. We educate to ground ourselves in the beliefs necessary to make that transformation happen. We can continue to have schools that mirror the social inequities of our society, or they can be laboratories for change that can show us the way forward. Now is the time to make the investments necessary for that change, and to listen to the students and parents who are leading the way.
The Dignity in Schools Campaign, as a national coalition of over 100 organizations, envisions a public school system situated in a social and political reality that values students, parents and communities as decision-makers with a fundamental human right to shape their lives. In our vision, schools value the humanity and dignity of all people, and hold that belief as essential for students to succeed.
In response to the ongoing racial violence against Black communities and the global health crisis that is institutional and systemic racism, we call on schools, districts, states and federal policy-makers nationwide to take immediate action.
City governments, school boards, departments of education and school administrators should eliminate budget line items that fund police and mandate that school districts in collaboration with the communities they serve reallocate those funds for hiring of school support staff, restorative and transformative justice, positive behavior interventions and supports, cultural healing, culturally relevant curriculum, and other community-led programs that transform education and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
(1) Remove police from schools and utilize available funds to invest in supportive school staff, including:
- Removing all variations of police personnel from schools, including through contracts with outside police departments, school police departments housed within school districts, school resource officers employed by individual schools, probation officers, ICE and any other law enforcement personnel.
- Hiring peacebuilders, community intervention workers, mental health counselors, social workers, school nurses and other support staff to create safe, positive and supportive school climates for learning based on care, not criminalization.
- Recognizing that the policing of Black bodies has infiltrated every facet of society and that the social service sector is not immune from this reality, hiring and staffing practices for social workers, mental health counselors and other school staff must mean hiring people who look like and reflect the students and communities they work with, who have experience working with Black, brown, poor and working-class students, and who have demonstrated commitment to anti-racist practices and to addressing anti-blackness.
- Protecting students from further criminalization and harm by ensuring that information shared with mental health professionals and other school staff stays confidential, and that students and families are informed of any situations where what they say may be shared with others.
- Creating mechanisms for student, parent and community involvement with hiring and promotion decisions at the school and district level.
- Creating a pathway for students, especially Black and brown students, to return to the school district as teachers, counselors, intervention workers and other school staff.
(2) Divest from the criminalization of schools and invest in culturally responsive approaches to education and school safety, including:
- Eliminating policies and practices that contribute to the surveillance, militarization and criminalization of physical school environments, including removing metal detectors and rejecting public and private overtures to leverage digital surveillance technology as a solution for monitoring school safety.
- Investing in culturally-responsive approaches to restorative and transformative justice, social and emotional learning, trauma-informed approaches, and support for healing and mental health supports.
(3) Strengthen community decision-making and monitoring in education and broader community safety policy and services, including:
- Ensuring student and parent participation in decision-making at the school and district level regarding education, school climate and safety, and mandating at least three (3) voting youth seats on local school boards that are accorded all the decision-making authority of other school board members.
- Creating and investing in independent, civilian-controlled investigatory and disciplinary review boards to offer recourse for negative encounters between police and the general public, which must have subpoena powers to effectively operate in this capacity and be representative of the people’s voice.
- Engaging the community in consultation and decision-making on how schools will reopen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure to include the perspectives and needs of students with disabilities and their families, families with individuals that are at high-risk for complications due to the virus, families with essential workers, and school staff.
(4) Implement culturally relevant and accessible curriculum, teaching methods and services, that also address the challenges of ongoing remote learning strategies under COVID, including:
- Ensuring that content and delivery of material is culturally competent to the members of the school community, including taking the opportunity to invite speakers and utilize a variety of audio-visual components that are possible due to remote learning.
- Continuing to hire and support teachers that reflect the demographics of students and the communities they live in.
- Making all education content available in the students’ and families’ home language, not only for students who are English learners but also for family members who are not English speakers so that they can fulfill their role as “home school” teacher.
- Requiring schools to provide technology to be able to access all remote class services, including if families do not have internet access, a computer or tablet for all of the students who need one, or whatever other technology and software the school is using in their remote learning.
- Ensuring that schools provide students with disabilities access to tailored services as required in their Individual Education Plans (IEPs), including needed compensatory services as schools reopen as directed by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Services.
(1) Fully implement federal education law and civil rights protections and monitor Local Education Agencies’ (LEAs) compliance, including:
- Fully implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including requirements for community engagement, proper use of Title funding and annual public reporting of data disaggregated across race, disability and other status, that is accessible to and easy to understand for parents, youth and other community members.
- Aggressively using State Education Agencies’ statutory authority as the lead agencies tasked with monitoring local implementation of law to address disparities in outcomes for Black and brown children and students with disabilities.
- Ensuring schools meet all obligations to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
(2) Eliminate state-level school funding schemes that exacerbate inequities and criminalize Black and brown students, and ensure equitable and comprehensive funding across districts, including:
- Eliminating all state funding streams for police in schools, school resource officers, or any surveillance activities.
- Prohibiting the usage of any state or federal education funds for school security functions.
- Ensuring that LEAs are not overly dependent on local real estate and sales taxes, and ensuring that school districts and school boundaries mitigate rather than exacerbate existing patterns of residential segregation.
(3) Change state law to end the criminalization and punishment of Black and brown students in schools and require that school districts implement positive, culturally responsive approaches to school climate, including:
- Eliminating state laws and policies that contribute to the surveillance, militarization and criminalization of school environments, including any zero-tolerance policies, harmful data sharing and use of gang databases, and laws requiring involvement of police or SROs in schools.
- Requiring school districts to revise codes of conduct to strictly limit the use of suspensions, prohibit the use of law enforcement and create positive school environments rather than use harsh and punitive discipline that pushes students out of school.
- Providing funding for training of school staff and all members of school communities in culturally relevant curriculum, culturally affirming social and emotional learning, and restorative and transformative justice.
(1) Eliminate all federal funding streams and policies that support police in schools, school resource officers (SROs) and the criminalization of school environments, including:
- Eliminating COPS program grants and any federal provisions that embed or fund SROs in schools, and redirecting those funding streams to build positive school climates, including funding peacebuilders, community intervention workers, mental health professionals and counselors.
- Prohibiting the use of any federal education funding (including Title I, IV and any ESSA funding) to pay for school police and SROs.
- Ending the military 1033 program as well as any other federal programs that place military weapons in the hands of local police departments.
- Eliminating all federal requirements attached to education or other funding streams that require states or districts to implement punitive or criminalizing policies and practices, such as rejecting school “threat assessment” policies that criminalize young people.
(2) Prohibit the use of corporal punishment in all schools nationwide.
(3) Invest more federal funding in education and social services that allow students, families and communities to thrive, as well as repairing the specific and ongoing harm experienced by Black people in this county, including:
- Increasing federal funding for education, including funds to ensure that all students receive the support needed to make up for lost learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have access to mental health and other services.
- Establishing a series of positive school climate grants that direct funding to districts that remove police and SROs from schools to invest in school staff trained in culturally responsive restorative and transformative justice, trauma-informed approaches, social and emotional learning and mental health and counseling supports.
- Funding reparations for youth and communities that have been harmed as descendants of enslaved Black people.
- Adding culturally relevant curriculum and teaching methods as requirements under ESSA and other laws and providing federal resources to support states and districts in implementing culturally relevant content and practices.
(4) Change federal law to increase accountability for law enforcement and education agencies, such as eliminating Qualified Immunity, and other ‘special legal privileges for Law Enforcement, which shield government officials from being held personally liable for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity.
The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) challenges the systemic problem of pushout in our nation’s schools and works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. As a national coalition, DSC builds power amongst parents, youth, organizers, advocates and educators to transform their own communities, support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization and the dismantling of public schools, and fight racism and all forms of oppression.