Making Black Lives Matter at School: The national movement has four key demands to eliminate racism in education.

AuthorHagopian, Jesse

Advocates for justice know that racism in the schools isn't only a product of openly racist and bigoted people. It is an institutional problem, rather than a merely individual one. As Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi has pointed out, "Anti-Black racism operates at a society-wide level and colludes in a seamless web of policies, practices, and beliefs to oppress and disempower Black communities."

With this understanding, Black Lives Matter at School nationally has issued four core demands to disrupt this anti-Black web of policies, practices, and beliefs in the education system. The first demand is to end "zero tolerance discipline" and replace it with restorative justice.

Black youth have been disproportionately suspended and expelled from school since the explosion of so-called zero tolerance policies modeled on the racist "war on drugs." As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, explained in an interview:

"Many people imagine that zero tolerance rhetoric emerged within the school environment, but it's not true. In fact, the Advancement Project published a report showing that one of the earliest examples of zero tolerance language in school discipline manuals was a cut-and-paste job from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration manual."

"The wave of punitiveness that washed over the United States with the rise of the drug war and the get-tough movement really flooded our schools. Schools, caught up in this maelstrom, began viewing children as criminals or suspects, rather than as young people with an enormous amount of potential, struggling in their own ways and their own difficult context to make it and hopefully thrive."

Black students are suspended at almost four times the rate of white students nationally and Black girls are suspended at six times the rate of white girls. While Black girls make up only 16 percent of the female student population, they account for nearly one-third of all girls referred to law enforcement and more than one-third of all female school-based arrests.

Howard Zehr, a professor of restorative justice at Eastern Mennonite University, explains that punitive approaches to discipline, known as retributive justice, ask these questions:

* What rule has been broken?

* Who is to blame?

* What punishment do they deserve?

By contrast, the Black Lives Matter at School movement has called for the funding and implementation of restorative justice practices to replace retributive and zero tolerance approaches. These restorative practices are used proactively in schools to build healthy relationships, not just reactively after a conflict arises.

Some of these restorative practices include the use of peace circles, peer mediation, community conferencing, and...

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