Take Charge of Your Health Today. Be Informed. Be Involved.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: What We Must Do

This month’s health page “Take Charge of Your Health Today. Be Informed. Be Involved.” addresses a topic about which I am deeply passionate. As a former high school teacher and education advocate, I have pushed for economic and social equality initiatives that benefit African Americans and, thereby, our entire community. I have long argued for the vital importance of equitable access to education and have championed for youths to have the supports they need to achieve their potential. My efforts were recognized as a Champion of Change in the Educational Excellence for African Americans program at the White House during President Obama’s administration.

In fall 2019, the Mayor Peduto’s Gender Equity Commission released a report by University of Pittsburgh researchers showing that the City of Pittsburgh’s rate of school suspensions and police referrals of Black students is among the highest compared to 89 other cities across the country. We must acknowledge how serious a problem this is for our children. When we push children and youths out of school and into the juvenile court system, we are contributing to loss of human potential.  

  Addressing this systematic inequality is what researchers Drs. Vaughn-Coaxum and Huguley are tackling in their work. Dr. Vaughn-Coaxum explores ways in which harmful environments and adversities during childhood may influence the ways in which children cope with stress. She calls for greater emphasis on mental health supports for children who have disruptive and challenging behaviors. Dr. Huguley has developed an innovative intervention project called “Just Discipline” that brings restorative practices and relational approaches to transform schools and increase supports for youths. The program also helps student leaders to promote change in their school environments. Already, this project has shown substantial reductions in the number of school suspensions.

As our children and youths return to school, I am calling on all of us to come together to encourage our schools to reduce suspensions and strive to keep youths in school. The more we can disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline through innovative practices in schools and increased behavioral health supports, the greater the chance that our children and youths will thrive. The children in our region deserve no less.

Esther L. Bush

President and CEO, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

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