Durham, N.C. — The Youth Justice Project (YJP) of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice launched a coordinated effort to end the school-to-prison pipeline and achieve educational justice in Durham Public Schools (DPS). The #LiberateToEducate campaign envisions a future in which students of color attend schools that lift them up, provide spaces focused on improving students’ mental health, and create greater academic and cultural inclusion with the support of governmental initiatives, teachers, and administrators.
During the 2019-20 school year, DPS spent over $1 million for 22 School Resource Officers (SROs) to police 17 of the district’s schools. The students of the Youth Justice Project feel that money could be better spent by improving the educational environment, especially for students of color.
“SROs are costly, ineffective and harmful to students and their learning environment. Rather than improve safety, research demonstrates that placing police in schools negatively affects school climate,” the #LiberateToEducate policy platform says. “Instead of ensuring safety and improving behavior, police presence often increases disorder among students by diminishing the authority of school staff. In fact, 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.”
Although research confirms that Black students do not misbehave at higher rates than their White peers, Black students represent only 44% of DPS student enrollment but received 76.4% of all short-term suspensions and 86% of all school-related entries into the criminal justice system, according to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Racial Equity Report Card.
The #LiberateToEducate policy platform calls for DPS to:
1. Remove police from schools and end the contract with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.
2. End the use of exclusionary discipline and fully implement school-wide restorative justice programs.
3. Liberate the school environment with more choice in course selection and ending academic tracking.
4. Require all schools to implement culturally relevant curriculums.
5. Establish mental health spaces and safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ students in schools that are available during and after school hours.
The #LiberateToEducate campaign is the latest in a series of efforts demanding to end discriminatory practices and create safer environments that enhance school climate and safety and improve student social and emotional behavioral functioning.
“Students are most impacted by the policies and practices used, not just in Durham Public Schools but across the nation—the push for students of color out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems,” said Tyler Whittenberg, Chief Counsel for Justice System Reform with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It’s exciting to see youth take the lead in working to dismantle the old system and offer positive suggestions for creating a more inclusive environment where all students receive the education and support needed to thrive.”