Time to Reconsider The Mass Incarceration of North Carolina’s School Children

Students of color and students with disabilities in North Carolina are disproportionately reported to law enforcement, which is raising concerns about the effectiveness of school resource officers in addressing oppressive actions on campuses across the state. Despite making up less than one-third of the country’s population, Black and Latino people make up the vast majority of those who are criminalized in the state. Rather than placating the historically biased police force, employing experts with backgrounds in mental health should be taken into consideration as they are better able to confront these subjective behaviors.

School districts and school authorities must make sure that students are always supported in school rather than funneled out of it.

The sad reality is that police have moved inside schools after desegregation in North Carolina occurred in 1971. The chance that a student will come into contact with the juvenile justice system can increase threefold during a single suspension.  And this has led to the creation of an endless carceral cycle that is firmly anchored in the disenfranchisement of communities of color, with the assistance of policy makers working in collusion with private actors who profit from punishment.

For many years, expulsions and suspensions have been used as weapons against children of color and those with disabilities; this practice has contributed significantly to the state’s school-to-prison pipeline. North Carolina’s ongoing budgetary preference for policing obstructs any and all attempts to ensure that there is an equitable education that is extended to everyone. Because there is a rising dependence on police enforcement rather than school officials to maintain decorum and discipline, many schools in underfunded districts around the state have turned into a pipeline entry point.

Expulsions and suspensions have long been utilized as miseducational tactics by North Carolina against students who are disabled or of color. North Carolina is investing in staffing its schools with armed law enforcement despite the overwhelming evidence regarding the detrimental effects of their presence as a policy choice, rather than hiring mental health providers like counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers.

A practical strategy that can be successfully applied involves changing the culture that permits these obstacles to coexist and impede development and implement change through restorative practices.

By seeking to understand the underlying causes of these disparate conditions, the alternative solution to school discipline can be best practiced through restorative practices such as:

  1. Due Process Protections

  2. Mental health checkups for the entire school communities

  3. Community-based town hall meetings that feature open forums

  4. Remaining open, inclusive, and reflective by implementing a supportive school environment

  5. Removing offensive racial imbalances by doing away with racially biased curriculum and disparate treatment

  6. Developing and maintaining  stronger ties with children, families, and teachers by creating spaces and affinity groups that will support them in becoming the best versions of themselves

  7. Developing Cultural Competence

  8. Expanding Communication skills

  9. Addressing cultural bias

  10. Learning how to cope with trauma (educational, personal, & professional)

  11. Adhere to the law in a uniform, unrestrained, and unapproved manner

Due process rights under the law have been denied to schoolchildren as a result of the widespread preference for jail over education.

To ensure that disparities and injustices for school suspensions are reduced, North Carolina could learn from California’s example and outlaw all suspensions for “willful defiance” across all age groups. It’s important to realize that adolescents affected by school suspensions experience consequences both at home and at school.