Dozens of students and residents marched from Booker T. Washington Senior High to the site of the future Children’s Courthouse downtown, as they called for a stop to out-of-school suspensions.
There is growing national concern that suspensions can limit a student’s educational progress, lower their likelihood of graduating and increase the chance they will end up in jail.
The protest was organized by the nonprofit Power U Center for Social Change. It’s part of a series of events across the country that promote alternative ways to discipline students.
Julia Daniel, interim executive director of Power U, said suspension is viewed as the start of the “schoolhouse to the jailhouse pipeline.”
Students physically traced that pipeline Thursday, marching through Overtown and downtown, chanting and holding signs with messages like, “Education is a Human Right.”
Annie Thomas, who attends the Mavericks charter school in North Miami Beach, said she has seen her relatives get suspended for minor things, like talking back to the teacher or administrator. “So they get a five- to 10-day suspension,” she said.
Earlier this year, Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, where he was riding out a suspension from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High in Miami-Dade. It was the third time Trayvon had been suspended. His school issues ranged from being spotted defacing lockers to getting caught with a marijuana baggie and women’s jewelry.
After Trayvon’s death, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho tapped a group to look at suspensions in the nation’s fourth-largest school district.
In September, the district’s chief operating officer, Valtena Brown, told the School Board the group had came up with a plan, including:
* requiring regional approval to suspend a student for trivial violations.
* requiring each school to develop a plan that provides an alternative to suspensions.
* mandating annual training for administrators.
* involving more community partners to identify neighborhood services.
In recent years, the number of suspensions in Miami-Dade schools has dropped by double digit rates. In 2009-10, there were 55,304 suspensions, in-school and out-of-school, across the district, with 19,812 of those in struggling schools. In 2011-12, that fell to 41,050 suspensions district-wide and 11,518 in schools under the education transformation office.
Daniel said it’s important to use strategies other than out-of-school suspension to get at the root cause of student behavior problems and hold them accountable.
In 2010-11, there were more than 13,000 cases of high school students suspended in Miami-Dade, according to People Acting for Community Together, or PACT. The group, which brings together faith-based groups, also wants to tackle out-of-school suspensions, so students don’t miss out on school and end up in trouble.
John Schuster, spokesman for the school district, said the administration has made “tremendous progress” to reduce suspensions and has tried to work with Power U. “However, this is not the way partners would behave in having a protest outside of a school.”