If school districts in York County need a reason to work hard to keep students in school, the 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office has several to offer.
The Rock Hill school district has been working since October to tweak its policy regarding student expulsions. The effort was prompted by several instances in which students expelled from Rock Hill schools were caught in educational limbo.
In some cases, the review process to decide whether to expel students was taking up to two months before school board members were asked to decide whether the students could be enrolled in an alternative learning program. By that time, students were at risk of dropping out.
Solicitor Kevin Brackett and deputy solicitor Ouida Dest are determined to keep that from happening wherever possible. They meet each week with representatives from the four York County school districts to review truancy cases and come up with strategies to keep kids in school.
In some cases, that means warning parents that they might be liable if their children miss school. Or it could be something as simple as providing students with alarm clocks so they wake up in time for school.
Other cases are more complicated but the goal is the same. Dest said truancy is the most important offense the Solicitor’s Office faces.
Why? Because the link between missing school and ending up in jail is so well established that law enforcement officials such as Brackett and Dest realize that one of the best ways to prevent crime is to ensure children remain in school and get an education.
The phenomenon has its own name: The “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“They get in trouble in school, then they get in more trouble, then they get suspended, then they get expelled, then they end up in Family Court, then they become 17 years old and they end up in General Sessions Court,” said Brackett. “It just becomes this conveyor belt.”
It’s easy to understand why this occurs. When students are removed from their normal school environment and peer groups, they can be stigmatized and isolated. And, without intervention or access to alternative schooling, they can find it harder to re-enter a traditional classroom, which can lead to dropping out of school altogether.
Keeping kids on the path to graduation has a practical aspect. It helps prevent crime and reduces the burden on police, courts and prisons.
But it also has a humanitarian goal. Ensuring that children stay in school not only helps keep them out of trouble but also helps equip them with the skills they will need to be responsible, law-abiding citizens as adults.
In other words, if we – including parents, school officials, law enforcement agencies and members of the community – can interrupt the “school-to-prison pipeline,” we can redirect children’s lives and, perhaps, prevent them from turning to crime and ending up behind bars.