“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Assata Shakur

The Youth Justice Project – Youth Steering Committee

The Youth Justice Project – Youth Steering Committee (YJP-YSC) is a youth-led group of Durham Public School (DPS) students of color who are committed to ending the school-to-prison pipeline and achieving educational justice. We envision a future in which young people of color attend schools that lift them up, not pat them down; live in communities that follow their lead, not suppress their voice; and are served by governments that invest in their future, not their incarceration. We believe in a world where no child is criminalized and all Black, Latine and LGBTQIA+ youth receive the education and support necessary to thrive in their full dignity. On a regional level, YJP-YSC fights to debunk the myth that youth criminalization promotes safety for Black and Brown communities. To achieve this end, we implement a communications strategy that: highlights the individual and social harms posed by policing and incarcerating Black and Brown youth; links current laws and policing practices to the treatment of Black and Brown people under Jim Crow; and uplifts successful community-led alternatives to school policing and youth criminalization.

It is the goal of YJP-YSC to recruit and train students in the art of strategic litigation, policy advocacy, targeted research, and communications, and organizing support to build power for grassroots campaigns fighting to end youth criminalization and create systems of transformative justice in the south. YJP-YSC fights to Divest from all forms of youth criminalization, including: school policing; exclusionary school discipline policies; programs that place youth in contact with the justice system (e.g., arrests, citations, and probation); and youth prisons and detention centers. Invest in community-ran support services for youth of color and their families, transformative justice initiatives and high-quality schools.

YJP-YSC Policy Platform for Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Durham Public Schools

The following recommendations were developed by Youth Justice Project members and represent a comprehensive view of educational justice that, if fully implemented, will effectively end the school-to-prison pipeline in DPS.

Demand #1: Remove Police from Schools and End the Contract with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office

To end the school-to-prison pipeline in DPS, we must remove school resource officers (SROs) from DPS campuses and end the school policing contract with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

Demand #2: End the Use of Exclusionary Discipline and Fully Implement School-wide Restorative Justice Programs

Ending the practice of exclusionary discipline is also necessary to end the school-to-prison pipeline in DPS, where Black students were 7.4 times more likely than White students to receive a short-term suspension during the 2017-18 school year. To effectively end the school-to-prison pipeline, DPS should invest more fully in school-wide restorative practices until each school has a proactive and authentic restorative justice framework that is sufficiently staffed with paid restorative justice practitioners.

Demand #3: Liberate the School Environment with More Choice in Course Selection and Ending Academic Tracking

The Youth Justice Project believes that the district must liberate the classroom by: (1) Increasing student self-determination in course selection and scheduling; (2) expanding access to higher-level courses; and (3) ending the segregating and alienating practice of academic tracking.

Demand #4: Require All Schools to Implement Culturally Relevant Curriculum

To effectively develop and implement culturally responsive curriculum, DPS must incorporate students’ culture and current events, collaborate with the communities of color and ensure all students have access to culturally relevant course offerings.

Demand #5: Establish Mental Health Spaces and Safe Spaces for LGBTQIA+ Students in Schools that are Available During and After School Hours

Implementing district-wide mental health services and safe spaces are essential to repairing the psychological harm of systemic racism and the school-to-prison pipeline.