School officials face criticism at meeting
BY AMELIA HARPER
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
The issue of the school-to-prison pipeline came to a head at the Nash-Rocky Mount school board meeting Monday night.
“The school-to-prison pipeline is real. If you are willing to investigate it and do your due diligence, you will discover that it is a reality,” local resident Bronson Williams said during the meeting’s public input session.
Williams said he had heard of a local teen who had been suspended from school for drug use for the second time and was still at home with his assignments. Williams was referring to a situation in which a local mother called television stations in the area claiming that her son had been unfairly suspended in November for marijuana use in the school bathroom. The mother claims the son was forced into a confession and later passed a drug test indicating that he did not have drugs in his system.
When the Telegram inquired about this case last week, the school district refused to provide any information, citing the protection of the The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Williams stated that he did not have all the facts in this particular case but is concerned that the school district routinely suspended more black students than white. These actions, Williams said, unfairly send a message to students about their future and help create the school-to-prison pipelline.
“Is the school district aiding the school-to-prison pipeline? Is it sending students to a future of incarceration?” Williams asked.
According to school board policy, no one responded to Williams comments during the public input session. However, at the end of the two-hour meeting, Superintendent Dr. Shelton Jefferies passionately denied the claims made by Williams
“We have heard tonight about the school-to-prison pipeline. That term denigrates educators and it denies the impact of families, who are the first teachers, faith-based communities who teach in the spiritual realm, business partners, nonprofits, law enforcement and elected officials,” Jefferies said.
Jefferies said the issue also positions law enforcement officials as enemies of children.
“We are fortunate to have representatives of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office and the Rocky Mount Police Department here, and I am instilled with pride at seeing them. I don’t think for one moment that they are trying to harm children,” Jefferies said.
Jefferies also defended educators from the charge.
“I defy one person to find an educator who is trying to harm children by putting them on a pathway to prison. That is a farce. The drug culture and the gang culture and illegal acts sometimes intersect with schools and when that happens, we always address it appropriately. That does not mean that we love these children less, but we love the children who are doing right equally. Once they come back to school, we try to help these students make good choices. That is the work we do,” Jefferies said.
Jefferies said schools are intended to have a positive effect on the community, not a negative one.
“Instead of talking about the school-to-prison pipeline, we need to be talking about the school-to-promise pipeline. I am a product of that. Schools can have a positive impact on the community. We all have a bone in this fight,” Jefferies said.