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Black students and the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

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School to prisonEnloe High School is known for its racial and socioeconomic diversity. As a magnet program, it attracts kids from all over Wake County, N.C. But the school also has enough of a crime problem that a Raleigh police officer is permanently assigned to campus.

On May 16, a massive water balloon fight broke out at Enloe. After a 911 call about the senior-day prank, the Raleigh Police Department dispatched 24 officers to restore order. In the end, eight Enloe students, all 16 to 17 years old, along with a parent, were arrested following events related to the water balloon fight.

In North Carolina, being arrested as a teenager has enormous consequences. It’s one of two states in the country that considers 16- and 17-year-olds to be adults when they are charged with a criminal offense and then denies them the chance to appeal for return to the juvenile system. The law means that misdemeanor charges stick on your permanent record.

Following the Enloe incident, however, there has been pushback from child advocates over how the state handles teen discipline. This week, Legal Aid of North Carolina is filing a complaint with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, alleging “over-reliance on unregulated school policing practices, often in response to minor infractions of school rules.” The complaint charges those policies routinely violate “students’ educational and constitutional rights, as well as protections for students with disabilities and for African-American students against unlawful discrimination.”

The issues in Wake County have also resonated nationally. Earlier this month, the federal Education and Justice departments issued new guidance on school discipline, designed to disrupt what’s increasingly called the “school-to-prison pipeline” that critics say lands far too many black and Hispanic students in the courthouse – or jail.


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