The school-to-prison-pipeline (STPP) has been a problem since long before any recent election. Likewise ICE raids leading to indefinite detentions and deportations of youth and their families have been a problem since at least the 1990s.

Nevertheless, there are two points to consider in the present moment. Disproportionate to their numbers, many African American and Latinx children are subject to persistent police abuse in the course of attending school. This is a key civil rights issue that must be corrected through retraining superintendents, principals, teachers, and others so that restorative justice practices can be the first resort, as opposed to criminalization of youth of color. Students who are black/Afro-Latinx and undocumented immigrants face double the risk.

One, pushing young people into the school-to-prison pipeline destroys their chances to graduate on time (if at all), with future harsh consequences for those with a criminal record, time spent in juvenile detention, and lack of education attempting to find work in an intolerant economy. This is how youth of color face stacked odds and an unforgiving society. Young people may be subjected to violence and additional abuse by peers or adults in juvenile detention centers. The loss of human potential is incalculable for the young person and her or his family.

Two, young people pushed out of schools also have a secondary effect on the overall health of the school: fewer students attending means depopulation and defunding for the students who remain. These schools are often already in underresourced communities where few businesses form a tax base, schools experience neglect of facilities and equipment, and teacher retention or turnover are often major hurdles. Already on precarious ground, these schools risk closure.

This is why it has always been imperative to halt the school-to-prison pipeline as quickly as possible. Principals MUST form the first line of defense to ensure that discretionary discipline addresses root needs, that ALL supports — including emotional and mental health — are given to a child of color in need, and they MUST work to carefully instill reparative, and not punitive, measures at the school level whenever possible. Again, reliance on School Resource Officers or city police must be the last resort reserved for cases where the child has broken a law.

Principals who call in police assistance for students’ minor behavorial issues are 1) activating, and not eliminating, the STPP, 2) in doing so they are participating in the eventual diminishment and depopulation of their own school. There should be a moratorium on calls to police and or SRO calls for all grade school children.

See what students and families can do with People’s Response Team Chicago‘s  CopWatch and Bystander training to ensure that IF police are called to a public school, communities can ensure that the police act in ways that  protect the rights of the child. These bystanders might be teachers, staff, parents, community members, or other students.

Here are also some resources for school leaders and administrators seeking alternatives to incarcerating youthful offenders. Community-based alternatives are key, so are school-based restorative justice programs.

“We’re In It For The Long Haul: Alternatives to Incarceration For Youth In Conflict With The Law,” IssueLab