What’s the End Game?

As the United States government continues to abuse children in unprecedented fashion by ripping them out of their migrant parents’ arms, there is one question no one has addressed? What’s the end game?

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From Politico

As of May 2018, the United States government was holding nearly 11,000 migrant children in detention. The numbers are growing so rapidly that the administration is now holding nearly 1,500 of these children in a former Wal-Mart store in Brownsville, Texas, which is now the largest licensed shelter in the country. Even worse is the plan to house children in a tent city in Tornillo, Texas to hold an additional 450 children. Indeed, the the U.S. government has already proven it cannot handle the number of these children as it has lost track of nearly 1500 of them last year alone.

Although the administration claims that its practice of forcibly separating children from their parents is a deterrent to migration, that claim has no merit, because the numbers of families crossing the border continues to rise. There were over 50,000 arrests for illegal border crossings in May, which was the third month in a row that the number was so high. This is up 160% over May, 2017.

Since ripping children away from their parents and placing  them in tent cities has not proven to deter parents who are fleeing horrific condition from taking their chances to come to the United States, in addition to  demanding family unification, the Administration must be asked the following questions:

  1. How many children does the United States government have the capacity to detain?
  2. How long does it intend to detain migrant children?
  3. What services will it provide to detained children while they reside in U.S. detention centers?
  4. Is there any plan to ever reunite migrant children with their parents?

In addition to feeding and clothing these children, the Administration has probably forgotten that in 1982, the Supreme Court decided in a case called Plyler v. Doe that immigrant children have just as much of a right to an education as American children. As the high court said in this landmark decision.

“[B]y denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation. Such discrimination can hardly be considered rational.”

Even the dissent noted that,  “is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children—including [unauthorized immigrants]—of an elementary education.

Of course, the right to a public education includes the right of children with disabilities to special education. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents have a legal right to participate in the evaluation and education planning for their children with disabilities. How will the Administration comply with this provision when it is responsible for removing these children from their parents?

The most likely reason no one is discussing the end game of mass detention of children is that the United States government has rarely engaged in such horrific human rights abuses. Even the shameful detention of Japanese-Americans during World War 2 did not include separating children from their parents.

As all decent Americans work to end this horrific practice of mass child detention, advocates should ask these questions of both the Administration and their members of Congress. Perhaps after thinking just a little further down the road, the United States government will realize that it has started down a path with no good outcomes, and will begin to wind down and ultimately end its human rights abuse of these migrant children and their parents.

You can make these points by contacting the Administration and your members of Congress. You can also support the many groups fighting this horrific practice. Click here for a great article which includes links to many ways you can play a role to end this nightmare.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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The Persistence of the School to Prison Pipeline

Recently, a local reporter contacted me to comment on a case in which a 16-year-old African-American boy with disabilities, who was a sophomore at Madison West High School, and under Dane County Juvenile Court monitoring when he ran away from home. While he was gone, the student’s home detention court monitor in charge of checking up on his school attendance and behavior, asked West High’s dean of students to write a letter to the court about him. The letter characterized the student as a troublemaker who was a bad influence on other students.

As the front page story stated, the dean of students’ letter to the court opened with the following statement, “I write because I think (the student’s) transfer here from (a suburban high school) has ultimately not been good for him and frankly not good for West.” Despite this statement, the boy had not been expelled. The boy’s mother believes that letter resulted in her son being ordered to remain in juvenile detention for another 3 weeks.

As if the dean of students’ letter did not cause enough harm to the boy, according to the newspaper report, “the court commissioner decided to extend the student’s detention, referencing “impulsiveness” described in his individualized education plan (IEP) and the need to come up with a plan to address it.”

I did not represent this student, but due to my background in school discipline and special education matter, the reporter contacted me, and as she reported, I told her that I had never heard of an IEP being used in court to detain a student. I went on to say that this scenario:

is a direct example of the “school to prison pipeline,” the idea that students — particularly children of color and students with disabilities — are pushed out of school into the criminal justice system due to discriminatory discipline practices, lack of resources to support students with special needs, police in schools and other methods.

“In (this example) you’ve got an administrator contacting the juvenile justice authorities about what’s going on in school, and you’ve got an IEP being used against a child.

“You see that children of color and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the school to prison pipeline… It is disturbing that we even have such a thing in our society. Schools should be designed not to end up incarcerating children but to educate them.”

The question, of course, is why the school to prison pipeline continues to persist. Many advocates have been fighting against it and while some reductions in suspensions rates have occurred, the trend lines in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest school district are troubling.

In the 2015-16 school year (the most recent data available), Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) suspended:

  • 10,267 students or 13.6% of all its students up from 10.6% the year before;
  • 8,227 African-American students or 20.3% of those students;
  • 436 White students or 4.4% of those students;
  • 3,044 students with disabilities or 19.7% of those students;
  • 7,223 students without disabilities or 12% of those students.

Thus, a disproportionately high number of MPS suspensions are of African-American students and students with disabilities.

Racine, which is the 5th largest school district in Wisconsin, had the second highest number of suspensions in Wisconsin that year. That school district suspended:

  • 2,151 students or 11.2% of all its students up from 9.5% the year before;
  • 1,292 African-American students or 25.5% of those students;
  • 395 White students or 5% of those students; and
  • for reasons that are unclear, Racine has not reported the number of its suspended students who have disabilities.

Despite lacking the disability information, the Racine data reveals the troubling trend of racial disproportionality in school discipline.

As this ACLU infographic shows, this is not an isolated problem, as the national data on the school to prison pipeline continues to persist.

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In the Madison case, the newspaper report concluded with a bit of good news. The dean of students who wrote the damning letter to the court conceded that:

“As an educator, I need to be an advocate for our students, and in this instance, I fell short. There isn’t any excuse for that, and I recognize the negative impact it had on this young person’s life,” she said. “I am learning from it, and I am committed to supporting and serving all students going forward.”

Moreover, the boy has since left West and enrolled in an alternative program in the district. Although his mother said she will have trouble ever trusting the district again, she told the reporter that her son is already doing better in the new environment.

“He really likes it,” she said.

When I sent a friend the article in which I am quoted, he noted the good news at the end of the article, but then he went on to say,

“Maybe this is the heart of things. Instead of focusing on a student’s needs for a smaller alternative program to further his education, it got framed as needing to protect the school from a dangerous student. In the name of “school safety,” we’re willing to harm individual kids-disproportionately kids of color and with disabilities. I think this is how Madison does racism. We never use the language of it but the impacts are just as bad.

While the persistence of the school to prison pipeline may have many reasons, one common theme is the persistence of racism and discrimination against students with disabilities. Until we tackle those issues, improved policies alone will not solve the problem.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.