Dr. Artika R. Tyner’s research on the school to prison pipeline has inspired Central High School students to take action and serve as engineers of social change. This past fall, several students from Central High School Touring Theater attended Dr. Tyner’s lecture entitled: “Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline: Research and
Recommendations for Creating New Pipelines to Success” which was sponsored by St. Paul Public School’s Multicultural Resource Center. This presentation focused on education as a civil rights issue by exploring the disproportionate impact of school disciplinary policies on students of color and critically examining the emergence of the school to prison pipeline. The purpose of this presentation was to begin a dialogue on the equity issues underlying the disproportionate representation of students of color, in particular African American students, in school disciplinary proceedings and juvenile detention. For instance, fifteen percent of the Saint Paul School District’s black students were suspended at least once last year — five times more than white students. In addition, these disciplinary referrals may lead to a pathway into the school to prison pipeline for students of color since school referrals make up roughly 20% of the cases in Minnesota’s juvenile justice system. Racial disparities are also apparent in the rate of referral to the juvenile justice system and the associated detention outcomes. In the context of juvenile justice, youth of color and American Indian youth comprise only 17 percent of 10-17 year olds in Minnesota however they account for 35% of juvenile arrests and 45 percent of cases that result in juvenile detention.
This phenomenon has been characterized as the school to prison pipeline. “This funneling of students out of school and into the streets and the juvenile correction system perpetuates a cycle known as the ‘School-to-Prison-Pipeline,’ depriving children and youth of meaningful opportunities for education, future employment, and participation in our democracy” (NAACP Legal Defense Fund).
The students in attendance shared this information with their colleagues and developed a production, Training Day. It explores the challenges that high school students face both inside and outside the classroom with topics ranging from depression to racism. In the context of educational disparities and racial equity, the students masterfully created a piece called: “In the Hallway.” This piece brings to life the content of Dr. Tyner’s earlier lecture by focusing on the growing rate of referrals from the classroom to the courtroom, harsher disciplinary penalties experienced by students of color (in comparison with their white peers), and the lasting impact of a juvenile record due to collateral consequences. The students share their firsthand experiences of observing the impacts of the pipeline and/or being entangled in the pipeline themselves.
These students passion for social justice has inspired community members, teachers and other young people across the state to take action by dismantling the school to prison pipeline. Under the leadership of Ms. Jan Mandell and her team, the students have reached over 10,000 people to promote a community discussion and compel action to remedy this social issue. These students have challenged audience members to become informed and engaged on this civil rights issue in order to eradicate the racial disparities in school disciplinary actions and referrals to the juvenile justice system. Hence, the members of the Central Touring Theater have demonstrated the power of young people to serve as leader and transform their communities.
(Sources: Teacher frustrated with debate over suspensions, By: Daarel Burneette II; Minnesota’s racial disparities: A judge’s view, By: Lucy Wieland (April 17, 2011) Link: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/119948639.html; “Leading for Racial Equity An Emerging Agenda for Minnesota,” Link: http://www.oaproject.org/sites/default/files/all_prea_print.pdf)