This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity
Meridian is not alone under the DOJ magnifying glass. In a somewhat similar case in Tennessee, the DOJ says the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County has failed to inform children of the charges against them and of failing to make sure the children know what their legal rights are ahead of questioning. Like Meridian, the juvenile court is also accused of failing to hold timely hearings. There are varying definitions of a school-to-prison pipeline, said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a nonprofit legal action group that fights racial injustice. “How I like to define it,” Freeman said, “is the use of policies and practices that increase the likelihood that young people become incarcerated.”
That includes at-school arrests for minor behavioral incidents, as well as what he calls more indirect actions, like suspensions, expulsions or references to juvenile court or alternative schools.
The first time I skipped school I was 13 years old. Up until then I had achieved perfect attendance for eight years. But in ninth grade I put an ignominious end to my record. That year, I had a friend, Jack, who lived down the street. His parents both went to work early, and he was left to his own devices to get to school.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth across America are facing a crisis in the juvenile justice system as a result of harmful discrimination in their homes, schools and communities. Recent studies demonstrate that continued harassment of LGBT youth in their schools place them at a higher risk for involvement with the system. LGBT youth are more likely to skip school to avoid victimization and in the process face truancy charges. Additionally, other LGBT students end up in the system on assault or disorderly conduct charges after they try to defend themselves against bullying by their classmates. In other instances, LGBT youth are disproportionately targeted by school officials for punishment, often referring them to juvenile court for conduct that is more appropriately handled in school.
We moved to Clayton County, GA in 1974. I was 14 years old. I had lived in nine different cities from California to New York, and back to our southern roots when my father was transferred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. My childhood took me many places. I met a lot of kids of all physical, emotional, spiritual, and social shapes and sizes. Benjamin Disraeli once said that “Travel teaches toleration.” In hindsight I must agree with the former British Prime Minister. My travels have introduced me to different religious beliefs, political and social thoughts, and people of all colors and cultural backgrounds. My childhood friends were white, black, red, yellow, and brown. They were Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Christian of all denominations, atheist, and agnostic. They came from families of varying political persuasions from conservative to liberal, from Republican to Democrat to Independent, and with economic tastes from capitalism to socialism in varying degrees.
My many childhood friends from coast to coast in a thirteen year time span expanded my understanding of diversity and taught me to be tolerant of those with different cultures and beliefs. However, toleration, I have learned, is a double edge sword. In the words of Edmund Burke, “Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.” The determinative question when the tolerant sword is cutting is “Which side of the sword is doing the cutting?” Is it the cutting edge that promotes the acceptance of people regardless of their differing beliefs or the edge that promotes the acquiescence of conduct hurtful toward others? The former is good for al l, the latter is good for none. This concept of toleration raises an interesting paradox when applied to the arrest of kids on school campuses. I think we can all agree that there should be no toleration of student disruption of any kind. I helped to raise three children. They are now adults and doing quite well. All my kids attended public schools.