This week Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High, continues her work in education justice over at Atlantic.com. Writing now to address truancy laws across the U.S., the author offers a thorough investigation of the discrepancy between states' intentions and outcomes when it comes to keeping kids in school. Who, she asks rightly, are truancy laws really helping?
Supporters say the truancy crackdown is critical to improving test scores and high school graduation rates, but there's a fiscal motivation, too. With school budgets cut to the bone, every dollar counts, and each absent child represents lost state funding. Some districts get a share of fines levied by the courts, providing an additional incentive for issuing tickets. While a recent study from the non-profit Get Schooled found that truancy cuts across all demographics, those most affected by harsh enforcement are low-income families whose financial struggles can contribute to attendance problems, and students like Marcus Derrick with health problems or learning disabilities, who may require costly educational interventions that school districts want to avoid by punting the problem off to the courts.
Last week on The Huffington Post, Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse, weighed in on the recent case of a Santa Fe high school that has just introduced—to the surprise of both parents and several administrators alike—a controversial new drug testing program aimed not at teachers or staff, but at its students. The practice of random drug testing in schools is not only vehemently opposed by parents and civil liberties groups, but also, for example, by the American Academy of Pedicatrics whose extensive research on the issue clearly demonstrates the lack of evidence of any effective school-based drug testing. More alarming, perhaps, are the additional concerns that Fuentes's article draws attention to, which most notably address the new testing practices which proceed by sampling hair particles instead of through traditional urinalysis. Fuentes writes:
Paul Armentano of NORML, the marijuana law reform organization, told me the research indicates that hair testing for drugs may be more sensitive on the hair of people with darker pigmentation. "There have been allegations of an inherent bias in the test," he said.
Lockdown High author Annette Fuentes appeared on the Cultural Baggage Radio Show for a lengthy discussion on the impact of zero-tolerance policing in US schools and the myth that schools are havens for violent young offenders. Drawing on a wealth of historical sources cited in her book, Fuentes spoke about the history of schools as sites of active rebellion and resistance by students:
It was amazing to find these stories. They were, many of them, autobiographies, many of folks who had gone to these early schools where there was a tradition called "barring out the headmaster". The kids would get together and lock the school up. It might be that one-room schoolhouse in the prairie and forcibly confront the teacher and keep him from coming in. There were other stories about young women who were teachers being confronted by farm boys who had a six-inch jackknife that they whip out if the teacher tried to pull out her hickory stick. You know, schools have always been a place where young people challenge authority and where authority in the form of teachers and principals challenge kids. The limits of power and control get played out in schools and it always has been thusly.