Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Brockton's School-to-Prison Pipeline

A group of Brockton High Students, potential students, young city residents, parents, and community leaders filled Brockton High School's Little Theater Tuesday night to voice concerns at the school committee meeting. What is usually an uneventful school committee meeting with a low community turnout saw people coming in from Boston and Stonehill college next door in Easton. People came to voice concerns, show solidarity, and observe the topic about the school-to-prison pipeline presented by students, friends and family. The "School-to-Prison Pipeline" refers to a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Among the 15 plus people that spoke out came many different stories painting the same picture, the demerit system, suspensions, and expulsions at Brockton High needs to be addressed.

Statistics of Disciplinary Actions of Student Groups at BHS
What started as an idea presented to a focus group at Stonehill involving professors, activists and concerned citizens has been picked up into a movement led by students affected by extreme disciplining. The stories were heartfelt such as students passionately talking about feeling more like an inmate rather than a student at Brockton High. This was enforced by a set of fathers talking about issues that should be settled in school were rather sent to juvenile court leading to legal trouble, financial trouble, students' futures lost and families left traumatized.  Furthermore, research conducted on the disciplinary actions at Brockton High back up previously mentioned grievances. The chart shows 33% of Black or Hispanic students find themselves disciplined as opposed to 16% of their white counterparts.

One testimony from the students stood out when Bradley Souffrant X, a student at Brockton High and member of Pioneers & Protégés, sat before the school committee with a petition to change Brockton High School's demerit system signed by 800 fellow students.

Bradley Souffrant X addresses the Brockton School Committee
"...Instead of giving the student demerits, we should take the time to remember that each student is an individual going through the transition into adulthood. Each individual has their own story with an endless list of things that they might be experiencing. Not everyone who breaks the rules do it because they are obstinate and disorderly. A lot of times that’s the student’s way of crying out for help. Demerits can’t help their situation, so that brings me to ask does the system work for everyone. Do you know what would work? Having qualified psychologists and counselors who are well trained to deal with these struggling youth. Psychologists that can relate to the students' background and understand to rehabilitate instead of correct and punish. Out of 6 different High schools, Milton High, Randolph High, Canton High, Bridgewater-Raynham High, BMC Durfee High and East Boston High, Brockton High has the highest percentage of students disciplined, at 29%. That means one out of three students has been disciplined at Brockton High."

While the mayor was absent from the night's committee meeting, superintendent Kathleen Smith broke protocol to reply to the list of complaints and demands brought by the group of students and community. She reassured that Brockton High was looking to alternative solutions like a redemption court for recently disciplined students to appeal. She also urged that there be more participation by the voters in the city of Brockton to get involved in this issue, be a part of the conversation, but more importantly be a part of the solution. The community groups present were Pioneers & Protégés and the Brockton Interfaith Community, BIC, committed to addressing the issues. Isabel Lopez, head organizer of BIC spoke before the school committee to ensure that the organization would be following through to find ways to solve the disciplinary problems.

There is no question that a school of 4,000 plus students will have its needs and issues to be addressed. The demerit system, suspensions, and expulsions must be reviewed, amended, and corrected. While Brockton High School has a long list of achievements, it is important that citizens look at the issues present and find a way to make Brockton High inclusive and with the correct resources to cater to all of the students that attend. 

*You can read Bradley's Speech in its entirety at*

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