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First-ever conference dedicates agenda to criminalization and over-suspension of Latino and African American students

LatinaLista — This weekend in Washington DC, educators, school administrators, community activists, law enforcement and students from across the country are getting together for the first-ever national conference to talk about what can be done to stop funneling so many students into the juvenile justice system for misbehaving in school. The more popular term is the school-to-prison pipeline.

The “We Can Do Better: Collaborating to Reform School Discipline and Accountability,” sponsored by the Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization, is spearheading the inaugural conference that goes from July 11-13.

At a time when it’s imperative that more students graduate from high school and go on to fill the jobs needed to advance our economy, it makes little sense that more than 3 million students are suspended from school every year due to run-ins with teachers and school officials.

The vast majority of these suspended students are Latino and African American. Research shows that when students are suspended or placed in alternative schooling they tend to drop out of school. Not many dropouts get their GEDs. What ends up happening is that these students grow up with no employable skills beyond what it takes to do minimum wage jobs — if they don’t end up in the justice system.

Hand-in-hand with the harsh school discipline directed at students of color is also the failure of many Latino and African American students to pass the required standardized tests. Policies in place require students to pass the test in order to be promoted or to graduate.

Frustration at not passing these tests is also contributing to students opting to drop out rather than bear the humiliation of not passing or graduating.

There is a hint of good news. Communities across the country are recognizing that things have to change and some have created special projects and programs to deal with both issues. Yet, the work is being done in silos — without the benefit of sharing best practices.

The We Can Do Better conference wants to bring the creators of these programs together to share their ideas, learn from one another and hopefully inspire those communities and school districts that currently have nothing in place to alleviate problems that many feel have already created an educational crisis.

The three-day conference kicks off Thursday night with a 7 p.m. (EST) Town Hall meeting titled “Reforming School Discipline and Accountability: A Conversation with Leaders,” which will be livestreamed. Several other conference sessions will also be livestreamed.

With conference topics such as: “Preventing Pushout: School Policies and Practices that Work”; “Race & Discipline: A Candid Conversation”; “Implicit Bias and School Discipline – Connecting the Dots”; and “Pushing Back Against High-Stakes Testing: Strategies from the Field,” conference organizers hope this is only the first step to galvanizing a national movement racing against the clock to save members of a generation who will face a difficult enough world in the future.

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