AR law students examine the “school-to-prison pipeline” and solutions to dismantle it

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Law students at the UA Little Rock William H Bowen School of Law explored issues surrounding racism, education, and school policing in Arkansas schools at this year’s symposium. 

“Every year we try to pick an issue that meets the heart of the community and meets the communities’ needs,” says Amanda Partridge, a 3rd-year law student and member of this year’s UA Little Rock Law Review.

Law students at the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law addressed racial disparities, school policing, mental health, and creating positive school climates at this years’ symposium.

She says the issue at hand is nothing new but is almost rarely discussed. 

“I think educating the community is the best way to make sure the community puts pressure on the school board and the legislators to enact real change,” Partridge says. 

Nearly 150 people registered for the Friday symposium. The students reached out to members of the community as well as experts across the state-lines. 

“Experts in the field who are doing the groundwork,” says Partridge. “Working with the disadvantaged youth – working with the schools and trying to end the systematic injustice.” 

Andrew Hairston, an attorney and director of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project traveled from Austin, Tex. to share his experiences and knowledge on this “disturbing national trend.”

“There are 1.6 million students in schools with cops, not counselors,” says Hairston. “This modern era really militarize school environments that young people attend.” 

The Arkansas School Safety Commission released a report this past November showing that Arkansas has historically relied on school policing. 

According to the report, there were 316 school police officers in 156 districts across Arkansas with recommendations for more school policing, stating, “there be one SRO for every 1000 students”. 

“Whenever possible we should prioritize lifting up those youth voices to really move the needle and ultimately dismantle the pipeline,” says Hairston.

Partridge says she hopes that today’s discussions cause people to think and generate solutions to the pipeline problem, with an eye toward the best solution for Arkansas.

“Before you can solve a problem you have to be able to define the problem. You have set the parameters to the problem and then you have to talk about what the causes are and what potential solutions could be,” Partridge says. 

The “school-to-prison pipeline” is the name for the phenomenon in which youths from disadvantaged backgrounds are channeled out of the education system and into the juvenile criminal justice system, according to UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law website. 

In pipeline schools, “zero-tolerance” policies for misbehavior turn minor infractions into criminal activity, and students who would benefit the most from school support and counseling are pulled out of class and punished. 

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