A report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released Wednesday found that Black Milwaukee area students accounted for 80 percent of all school suspensions and 87 percent of all school expulsions in the MPS system.
The investigative report showed that MPS students were restrained with handcuffs and other physical force or placed into seclusion (confined to a guarded solitary room) 1,139 times in 2017.
For the sake of contrast, in 2015 there were approximately 1,098 prisoners placed in guarded seclusion (segregation) in the Wisconsin prison system.
The investigative report stated that there is no substantial evidence to support that a major police presence in schools creates safer learning environments for students. Issues like bullying or fighting have not been impacted by police presence in schools, the report said, and police respond most often to instances of perceived disorderly conduct by students. The Office of Civil Rights found that in Milwaukee, black students were disproportionately punished for subjective offenses like chronic disruption or disorderly conduct.
The report quotes research that states black students do not misbehave at a higher rate than white students but that authority figures see black children as being more threatening, loud, disruptive and disrespectful than their white peers.
The investigative report concludes that Milwaukee’s approach to student discipline has hurt students in Milwaukee as well as cost the city millions of dollars.
The Milwaukee Area School district released a statement following the report asking the public to participate in community conversations on discipline.
MPS will hold public meetings at the following locations:
- Monday, April 16 5-6:30 pm at Bay View High School, 2751 S. Lenox St.
- Wednesday, April 18 5-6:30pm at James Madison Academic Campus, 8135 W. Florist Ave
- Tuesday, April 24, 5-6:30pm at South Division High School 1515 W. Lapham Blvd.
- Monday, April 30, 5-6:30 pm at Carmen High School-SE Campus, 2500 W. Oklahoma Ave
MPS says it will take action in agreement with the Office of Civil Rights investigative report by designating a Discipline Supervisor who will “Ensure that the implementation of the District’s policies concerning discipline is fair and equitable.”
MPS further states it will employ a range of corrective measures before referring a student to disciplinary authorities, unless it can be documented that the safety of students/staff is threatened or the behavior is such that the disruption to the educational environment can only be addressed by such a referral. MPS’ statement goes on to say they will do staff training, collect and analyze self-monitoring data, and in June will revise its policies and procedures for discipline.
But nowhere in the MPS statement do they discuss reducing the number of police officer is Milwaukee schools, reducing the number of metal detectors or addressing the school-to-prison pipeline issues many area youth are concerned about.
Leaders Igniting Transformation, a youth-led group in Milwaukee, are pushing a campaign to greatly reduce the school police presence.
“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 youth said in a statement Wednesday. “Police Brutality, arrests, suspensions and expulsions are far too common a feature of the educational experiences of students of color from low-income communities. These practices also create negative psychological impacts as the schools in communities of color resemble prison conditions.”
LIT, who held a rally last month in Milwaukee demanding the removal of police from area schools, wants to see MPS employ a more dignified approach to education. LIT would like to see metal detectors removed from schools, alternatives to suspensions/expulsions, and a stoppage of the use of seclusion and restraints at schools.
LIT released a report on Wednesday titled “From failure to freedom: dismantling Milwaukee’s school-to-prison pipeline with the youth power agenda,” which included solutions mentioned above.
“Students in Milwaukee have long known that turning schools into police states provides no benefit and only harms young people. Now, we have the data to prove it,” said Dakota Hall, Executive Director of LIT. “The numbers in this report provide even more evidence that school discipline in Milwaukee needs a complete overhaul to let students feel truly safe and supported.”