The Youth Justice Project (YJP) 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, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ youth receive the education and support necessary to thrive in their full dignity.
The school-to-prison pipeline is bigger than suspensions and arrests. It also includes biased polices, systemic underinvestment and outdated, Eurocentric curriculum – all of which push students out of the classroom and into the justice system. A comprehensive, youth-led effort is necessary to dismantle decades-old practices that wear away at the dignity and wellbeing of students of color. We urge the Durham Public Schools Board of Education to work with Youth Justice Project members and students of color throughout DPS to implement this policy platform.
The Youth Justice Project, in partnership with Durham Beyond Policing, demands that Durham Public Schools #LiberateToEducate. 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. In the sage and powerful words of Assata Shakur, “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.”
Learn about policing in Durham Public Schools and join our #LiberateToEducate movement by sharing these infographics.
Frequently Asked Questions
We want Durham Public Schools to end the school-to-prison pipeline by removing police, ending exclusionary discipline, liberating the school environment, implementing culturally relevant curriculum, and establishing mental health spaces and safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth at every school.
DPS must remove school resource officers (SROs) from DPS campuses and end the school policing contract with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. The same police officers harassing, beating, and even killing people of color in our communities are targeting and criminalizing Black and Latinx students in DPS schools. Although research confirms that Black students do not misbehave at higher rates than their White peers, Black students represented only 44% of DPS student enrollment in 2018-19 but were 86% of school-related complaints to the youth justice system.
The over-policed school atmosphere can initiate, rather than alleviate, misbehavior by increasing anxiety, alienating students, creating a sense of mistrust between peers and forming adversarial relationships with school officials. The increased presence of school security, including SROs, has been associated with increases in suspension and expulsion for Black students and greater discipline disparities between Black and White students. In DPS, Black students were 7.4 times more likely than White students to receive a short-term suspension during the 2017-18 school year. Although Black students comprised only 44% of enrollment that year, they represented over 76% of short-term suspensions. This is why we call for an end to exclusionary discipline and the implementation of authentic, school-wide restorative justice programs.
We want a liberated school environment where students from marginalized communities have the freedom to determine their educational experience while feeling safe, loved, and supported.
We believe that DPS 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.
More student choice benefits students and their overall learning environment. Research demonstrates that allowing greater choice in course selection engages students’ autonomy, competence and relatedness – all three of which enhance their intrinsic motivation and create healthier school environments. Students exhibited a statistically significant higher level of intrinsic motivation when given a personal choice over course selection, regardless whether it was an elective or required course.
Moreover, when students perceive that their school is making an effort to include them in decision-making, they perform better academically and are more likely to graduate. Thus, the extent to which a school and/or school district allows students to exercise self-determination over their coursework impacts both their academic and post-school outcomes. These studies and the experiences of students of color throughout DPS demonstrate that the district must increase students’ ability to dictate their own educational experience in order to eliminate this facet of the school-to-prison pipeline.
Call to Action
The Youth Justice Project needs your help to address the problems in Durham Public Schools (DPS) and end the school-to-prison pipeline. We are a youth-led group of DPS students of color who believe in a world where no child is criminalized and all Black, Latinx and LGBTQIA+ youth, as well as students with disabilities, have the education and support necessary to thrive in their full dignity.
As DPS students, we witness school resource officers (SROs) funneling students through the school-to-prison pipeline regularly. “One minute the SROs are interrupting a gym class and playing dodgeball with white students then the next minute, they’ll stop a student of color in the hall for wearing a hoodie.” Some of us also experience discrimination in academic tracking, which systemically places students of color in less challenging classes. “I am a victim of tracking specifically. I was told I could never be put into an honors class because of my test scores in elementary school, the age when my brain is still developing.”
By putting our demands into action we can make our school environment a better, healthier, safer, and more liberating place to learn. You can help us liberate DPS by signing our petition and telling school board members they must #LiberateToEducate.
We need your support to amplify our demands. Schools should be a place of liberation, not control. Use the sample tweet and sample email message below to tell Durham school board members to liberate DPS.
I support @YJPDurham and their #LiberateToEducate movement in @DurhamPublicSch. Black and Latinx students deserve liberated police-free schools where they feel safe and empowered to chose classes that reflect who they are.
Sign the petition:
SUBJECT: #LiberateToEducate in Durham Public Schools
Dear [School Board Member Name],
I join with the Youth Justice Project which is a youth-led group of Durham Public School (DPS) students of color who are committed to ending the school-to-prison pipeline. I support their five #LiberateToEducate demands to remove police from DPS, end exclusionary discipline, liberate the school environment by eliminating academic tracking, as well as implement culturally relevant curriculum and mental health and safe spaces at every school. Black and Latinx students deserve liberated police-free schools where they have the safety and self-determination to choose classes that reflect who they are.
For far too long, Durham schools have been places of control, not liberation. Black students face significant policing and suspension disparities that constrain their ability to thrive in their full dignity. Black students represented only 44% of DPS student enrollment in 2018-19 but were 86% of school-related complaints to the youth justice system. Not a single White student experienced this in the same year despite research indicating that Black and White students misbehave at the same rates. Black students were also 7.4 times more likely than White students to receive a short-term suspension during the 2017-18 school year.
Instead of paying for school police officers, Durham Public Schools should reallocate funds toward preventive programs, accessible culturally relevant courses, on-site mental health support, and student-led safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ students. This includes fully-staffed, school-wide restorative justice initiatives; mental healthcare professionals; and other resources to support students of color as determined by them.
I support the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. #LiberateToEducate so every Black and Latinx student in DPS have the resources they need to thrive.
Durham County School Board Contact List
|Name||District||Social Media Account|
|Frederick Xavier Ravin III||Bfirstname.lastname@example.org||Facebook|
|Alexandra Valladares||At Largeemail@example.com||Facebook|