And The Threats Just Keep on Coming: Now Supporting a School to Prison Pipeline in Urban Schools?

Originally posted at keepcalm

Keep your child home. Your child will not be promoted. You’re preventing your child from being successful. The school will lose funding.

Yep, we’ve heard it all. But the threats to parents just keep getting worse. Here in Baltimore City, one parent received notification that his child would be threatened with suspension for not taking the test! Suspension records, which follow the child through their school career, will create a series of negative consequences for their school success. In desperate attempts to get creative with their scare tactics, the punishments are eerily beginning to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline:

Out-of-school suspensions mean lost classroom time and, for some, disconnection from school. A recent landmark study of nearly a million Texas children showed that suspension increased the likelihood of repeating a grade that year and landing in the juvenile-justice system the next year. It also was linked to dropping out. 

At first this parent was told “his child would have to stay home during testing.” But he had done his homework and replied that in fact they could not force his child to be denied access to her right to attend her school. He told us in an email correspondence:

(The administrator) initially stated that the children couldn’t come to school until testing was done. I told her that I know that’s not the case and they can’t be denied their opportunity to an education (although we know this testing madness is doing that anyway). She then went into how it’s a Code of Conduct violation and she would treat it as such. The language is on the second page of the memo attached. It would be a Level 1 or Level 2 violation if she chose to take it there.

So they got creative. The  Baltimore City letter AOC on Opting out of Standardized now states:

Refusing to take the test could amount to a Defiance of Authority, more specifically a “failure to follow directions” or a “failure to follow school staff questions or requests.” Both are violation of the student code of conduct and may be classified at Level I or Level II offenses.

Although we know in Maryland from several letters from various counties, crafted at the behest of MSDE, articulate clearly that the decision to handle testing refusals ultimately rests with the local administration, many administrators would like us to believe that their hands are tied and that they are merely following the “policy” (which of course does not legally exist). Most curious though, we have seen many letters and administrative responses from around the state of MD, and have seen and heard a lot of county-level responses to testing refusals; some good, some bad, some ugly. But only in Baltimore City have we heard of schools threatening children with suspension. No suspension threats in Howard or Baltimore counties. Hmmmm. Given the horrific data that shows how children (often children of color) in urban schools are two or three times as likely to be punished with suspension as their county (White middle class peers) for the same exact “infractions”, this action on behalf of Baltimore City, should they enact this threat, perpetuates a racist and classist set of behaviors which could be addressed with a civil rights complaint. At least, a case could made against specific administrators since MSDE clearly indicates that such punitive measures are ultimately the decisions of the administrator to make! This is zero-tolerance behavior at its worst.

In the words of Matthew Prestbury, the Baltimore City parent who provided us with this letter:

In her (the school administrator’s)latest email to me she won’t admit that she is making this decision, only saying that she’s following the district’s guidelines (the memo clearly states that these actions are suggested in order to dissuade parents from “opting out”). Therefore I know that her hands aren’t tied as she’d like to have me believe. And that needs to get out there that they are working to strong arm parents into submission. Parents need to know that.

We’d like to see more comparison data nationally from testing refusals as well. Are there patterns of different disciplinary threats or actions for city children and parents versus their suburban and rural testing refusal counter parts? Is it suspension for city kids, and “Festivus for the rest of us”?

City parents: Tell us your story.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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