Over the last four decades, suspensions and expulsions in public secondary schools across the US have increased by 40%. Public schools have been flooded with technologies designed for prisons, such as surveillance systems and metal detectors, together with a heavy police presence. Of the approximately 9000 arrests and tickets in the LA school district in the 2011-2012 school year, 93% involved black and Latino students.
This August, the Los Angeles Unified School District took significant steps to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, affording educators and police officers greater latitude in responding to minor-offenses, such as possession of marijuana or alcohol on school grounds.
In an interview, Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse shared her take on zero tolerance and recent reforms.
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.