Report highlights data showing over a decade of abject failure by MPS to treat Black students and students with disabilities fairly in use of suspensions & expulsions
MILWAUKEE — Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) released a new report that shows Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) continues to push Black students and students with disabilities into the school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline – a national trend wherein children are funneled out of schools and into the criminal legal and deportation systems – through its rampant use of exclusionary discipline practices.
The report, titled “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: Milwaukee Public Schools, Persistent Disparities, and the School-to-Prison-and-Deportation Pipeline,” finds that little has changed since MPS came under the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 2014. OCR found distressingly uneven, disproportional, and heavy-handed use of punitive exclusionary discipline such as suspensions and expulsions in Milwaukee schools, a reality that has not yet been seriously addressed.
The report provides background on the OCR investigation and its findings. Its data shows a shocking continuity in the flagrantly uneven treatment of Black students and students with disabilities spanning at least over the past decade.
The report’s findings include:
●     In 2011-2012, Black students represented 82% of the students receiving out-of-school suspensions, a 26 percentage point disparity from their share of the student population. Today, a decade later, there is a 31 percentage point disparity between Black enrollment and suspension rates. Meanwhile, white students comprise 10% of enrollment but account for only 3% of suspension;
●     Over the first two months of 2022, Black students accounted for 80% of all suspensions despite representing just about 50% of enrollment;
●     Black, male, Special Education students were more than 7 times as likely to be suspended than their white, non-Special Education peers;
●     The share of students with disabilities receiving expulsions has grown since 2011-12, from a 15 percentage point disparity then to a 20 percentage point disparity in 2019-20.
In addition to detailing the ongoing regime of disproportionate and punitive treatment in MPS, the report provides an update to LIT’s Youth Power Agenda, a blueprint for divesting from policing and punitive measures and instead investing in the supportive and restorative programs that give students the freedom to thrive.
Students and young people demand a concrete overhaul of MPS’ discipline code. They are calling on MPS to invest deeply in restorative justice practices, culturally competent licensed support professionals, smaller classroom sizes, and culturally-responsive education and training.
“If there’s anything that police ‘reform’ has taught us, it’s that reform is not enough. Young people need justice and the only way to accomplish that is by transforming the way our schools and communities operate,” said Cendi Tena, Interim Co-Executive Director of Leaders Igniting Transformation, an organization of and by Black and Brown young people fighting for educational justice and to put an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. “The youth most directly impacted by the problem – and their expertise – must be centered in devising and implementing solutions. We hope MPS and the Board of School Directors will finally listen to the Youth Power Agenda and truly transform their approach towards young people.”
“For at least a decade MPS has forced young people into the school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline. The time for transformational change to prioritize the welfare and success of Milwaukee’s young people is long overdue,” said Kate Terenzi, Interim Co-Director of Education and Justice Transformation at the CPD, the nation’s largest multiracial organizing network, of which LIT is an affiliate. “Yet the problems we see in Milwaukee are not outliers. This is a problem that young people across the country face in schools that should be safe spaces for them. The only way to fix this problem is by listening to the needs of those closest to the pain and therefore closest to the solutions and finally taking significant action, as outlined in LIT’s Youth Power Agenda and the national Youth Mandate.”
The recommendations in the Youth Power Agenda make it clear that it is young people most at risk from MPS’s discriminatory punishments who are the ones uniquely situated to lead the dialogue about the necessary reforms that will develop truly safe and equitable learning environments.
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