“Are the children well?”

This is the question that keeps School District of University City Superintendent Dr. Sharonica Hardin-Bartley up at night. Young people must be emotionally well in order to achieve at the highest levels academically. 

A child’s experience in school can determine the trajectory of his or her entire life. It can mean the difference in whether they excel in academics, choose to get involved in activities and their community and graduate to pursue higher education. It can often mean the difference between a life of self-sufficiency and prosperity or a life in and out of the criminal justice system.

In our October 2017 report, “Missouri's Pipeline of Injustice: From School to Prison.” we found that in nearly every category of school discipline from the 2013-2014 school year, across the nation, black students and students with challenges are suspended longer and more frequently than their peers.

Last month, we shared the newest discipline data from the 2015-2016 school year, where we discovered a troubling increase in the intensity and frequency of out-of-school suspension and expulsion.

That’s why it’s so important we address how schools in Missouri discipline our children.

It’s also why education leaders like Hardin-Bartley believe that we must reimagine learning to create a better future for children.

“Sometimes when we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline people automatically think, ‘Oh, you’re giving kids a pass.’ I don’t view it that way. I need to support you differently, I need to give you different tools,” says Hardin-Bartley. “I may need to suggest counseling or a restorative circle, you may need to see a therapist. I may need to give you a cool-down time, or teach you yoga, so you can de-escalate and self-control.”

This desire to address school discipline in new ways is what led the School District of University City and several other school districts in Missouri, to establish a partnership with the ACLU on addressing Missouri’s pipeline of injustice.           

“We have to really work with our teachers and administrators in the context of the work we do to understand how we’re showing up each day,” Hardin-Bartley says. “Bias is a tricky thing and an aspect of the human condition.  We are often not even aware of it. But, as educators, we must consider explicit or implicit bias and whether or not, we are treating two children differently for the same behavior.”

While the details of each partnership differ with each community’s needs, each collaboration addresses implicit and explicit biases in school discipline, reversing inequities in the discipline process, supporting the district’s initiative to reduce the overall number of suspensions and retooling the district’s discipline handbook.

Read our report and update and watch your email for an update from us on how these districts have improved discipline practices for their students when we release our School-to-Prison Pipeline Report Cards.

“We all have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure all of our children have the same access to education.  We can’t expect them to achieve in school unless they are actually in their seats each day.” says Hardin-Bartley. “We’re talking about the lives of young people that need help. We have to accomplish it together.”