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03/30/2018 | Promoting Strong Public Schools, Justice Transformation

Young People Lead the Way to Rethink School Safety in Milwaukee

Young people in Milwaukee, led by a youth organizing group, Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), launched a campaign last week calling on the city’s public school district to radically rethink and change its approach to school policing and discipline. LIT developed their Youth Power Agenda, which calls for the removal of metal detectors and police officers in schools and more investments for  teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, and jobs programs. You can support their platform by signing on here!

The campaign comes as Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) move to implement a resolution agreement from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to change their policies after an investigation revealed racial disparities in discipline. In the 2016-2017 school year, 80 percent of the students MPS suspended were Black, while they make up only 53 percent of the student population.

The systemic criminalization of youth of color, youth with disabilities, and youth of color with disabilities in schools is one of the most egregious examples of structural racism and violence in this country. The presence of police officers, guns, handcuffs, and metal detectors in schools creates hostile teaching and learning environments that are reinforced by harsh, punitive, and exclusionary school discipline policies. LIT aims to end this oppressive system in Milwaukee. 

The pressure is already working. After the launch of a petition that generated over a thousand emails to the school board and a press conference outside the school board meeting, the district agreed to hold six public meetings on the DOE agreement.

This campaign comes as young people across the nation face an onslaught of proposals that aim to reconstruct the school-to-prison pipeline by effectively militarizing schools with armed teachers, police officers, and metal detectors. This campaign, along with similar ones in New York and cities across the country, seek to underline how such policies disproportionately affect students of color. There is a better way. Policy makers must listen to young people by following the Youth Power Agenda and other proposals like it that can pave a new national model for school safety, centered on support like guidance counselors, support services, and restorative justice, rather than criminalization.