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Children's Defense Fund Releases New Report On Zero Tolerance: Marian Wright Edelman Issues Call To Action For Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss., Feb. 8, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, the Children's Defense Fund - Southern Regional Office released a new report, Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline™: Preventing Pushouts in Mississippi Schools. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, gave a call to action on the critical need to reform Mississippi zero tolerance school discipline policies immediately and end the practice of suspensions and expulsions for nonviolent offenses. Edelman and her organization have been working in Mississippi for 40 years and see this as a crisis point for Mississippi children.

The new report is a wake-up call for Mississippi to change course and work to keep children in school and learning and in the pipeline to college and successful adulthood. "Too many school districts in Mississippi and around the country are pipelines to prison instead of pipelines to college," said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund. "It's time for Mississippi education leaders to take action now and stop flooding our juvenile justice system with children who don't pose a threat to others."

Edelman said the top priority of the Children's Defense Fund is to dismantle the Cradle to Prison Pipeline crisis that leaves a Black boy born in 2001 with a one-in-three chance of going to prison in his lifetime, and a Latino boy with a one-in-six chance of the same fate. Abusive zero tolerance school discipline policies are a key feeder system fueling the school-to-prison pipeline, pushing students out of school and deepening the dropout crisis in Mississippi.

CDF's Southern Regional Office has been documenting disciplinary practices in Mississippi, district by district, as the foundation upon which to mobilize students, parents, and community leaders as well as administrators and teachers to halt zero tolerance policies that are pushing children out of school. The new report reveals that in 59 of the school districts in Mississippi, Black students were more than twice as likely as White students to have a disciplinary incident and a disciplinary disposition. The student population in those districts was 52 percent Black and 43 percent White, similar to all districts in the state in terms of racial breakdown, district size and median family income. Forty-four percent of the dispositions were out-of-school suspensions—a rate of 21 per 100 students a year.

Recommendations for critical steps Mississippi should take include mandating all school districts submit data at least annually to the State Department of Education on the types of incidents and dispositions for these incidents, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, age, disability status and school, using uniform incident and disposition definitions and for all school districts to establish discipline protocols and practice to ensure all students are treated fairly and uniformly.

Additional recommendations include the need to develop and provide meaningful alternatives to suspensions and expulsions for nonviolent offenses. CDF recommends an overhaul of alternative school models that are punitive and replace them with models that support appropriate student behavior with trained case managers involved in the lives of students engaged in or at risk of repeat discipline violations. Some alternative discipline procedures recommended by CDF are Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, peace circles to promote "win-win" solutions to discipline problems, restorative justice strategies and student-led peer mediation.

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