Rural Advocates Attend Strategy Workshop to Combat Harsh School Discipline

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article appeared in the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

Across the country community groups and others concerned about young people have begun to push back against the growing trend for schools to use severe and punitive discipline in response to non-violent student misbehavior. Many rural community residents have identified school discipline practices, especially harsh punishments that push students out of school, as a major concern. RPM's School Discipline Policy series highlights some of the issues in the national conversation about school discipline.

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“These young people are just amazing,” said Ms. Doris Mack, Executive Director of Families Supporting Families and a member of the North Carolina Rural Education Working Group (NCREWG). Ms. Mack and other members of the NCREWG were attending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Action Camp held at North Carolina Central University earlier this month, along with members of the South Carolina Rural Education Grassroots Group, and others from across the Southern states. “They are so skilled at showing how they create a plan and carry it out.”

The Southern Regional ActionCamp is one of four such camps taking place around the country this year.  The events are coordinated by the Advancement Project, in partnership with the Alliance for Educational Justice, Dignity in Schools Campaign, the Labor/Community Strategy Center, Padres & Jovenes Unidos, Youth United for Change, and local partners.

The overarching goal of the meeting was to connect participants with other youth and adults working to protect the right to an education. According to Advancement Project materials from the ActionCamp,

“The overuse of harsh zero-tolerance measures, police, and juvenile courts in addressing school disciplinary issues has led to the needless pushout and criminalization of countless youth across America. In response, a growing national movement has emerged to dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline. This grassroots-led effort has already achieved important victories, and the momentum for change is building, but there is much more to be done.”

Collaborative sessions included workshops on winning local campaigns, strategic communications, and movement-building. The conference was notable for the student leadership of workshops where the youth explained their accomplishments in reforming discipline polices and offered the tools they used in their work. Young people from the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Padres and Jovenes Unidos and Youth United for Change were among those leading workshops.

Padres and Jovenes Unidos (Parents and Youth United) from Denver, Colorado challenged participants to engage in power analysis to analyze the positions and roles of stakeholders on issues to better strategize for change. These young people have not only effected major reforms to district school discipline policies in Denver but are now working at the state level for similar changes for all schools in Colorado. See this month’s related story on their work, “School Discipline Reform Underway in Colorado.”

On the last day of the ActionCamp, about thirty people from North Carolina gathered to discuss next steps. The discussion was facilitated by Brandi Bynum of the North Carolina Advocates for Children and by Anthony Clark, Chairperson of the NCREWG. The group decided that the next concrete step in the state should be to circulate a petition in support of the “Raise the Age” campaign being led by Action for Children. North Carolina and New York are the only two states in the country that still allow young people under the age of 18 to be automatically processed into the adult criminal justice system instead of the juvenile system. Members of NCREWG are actively gathering names for the “Raise the Age” campaign.

Offering some final thoughts on the ActionCamp, Anthony Clark said, “The conference was an awe-inspiring, educational event. It was great to see so many young people take charge and demonstrate they have the skill and ability to lead the way on the School-to-Prison Pipeline issue.”

Read more from the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.