How The School-to-Prison Pipeline Violates Due Process

This video features Shannon L. Kennedy, a Civil Rights attorney based in New Mexico.

Albuquerque, New Mexico Civil Rights Lawyer

Video Transcript:

Shannon Kennedy: 

That take students when they are at their most vulnerable and criminalizes whatever problem they may be having.

Rob Rosenthal: 

In most school systems student misconduct is handled by the school administrators, but in some, the police are asked to get involved and very early on. What's the result of that? What can and is being done about it? We're gonna find out right now in this episode of Ask The Lawyer. My guest is New Mexico attorney, Shannon Kennedy. I wanna remind you right up front, if you'd like to ask Shannon questions about your situation, it's easy to do, go to askthelawyers.com, click the button on the top that says Ask a Lawyer, it'll walk you right through a very simple process right there or, of course, you can always call the phone number that you see on the screen during our conversation. Shannon, thank you for making some time to answer our questions today.

Shannon Kennedy: 

You're welcome.

Rob Rosenthal: 

I've seen this thing called the school-to-prison pipeline, tell me what the school-to-prison pipeline is and where have you seen this happen?

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, we've seen it happen quite a bit in the public schools, in the State of New Mexico. The public school-to-prison pipeline is essentially a policy where school administrators hire and call school resource officers to resolve disciplinary problems within their school, and in so doing, they violate the due process rights of their students. Back in the day, everyone used to go to the principal's office if they did something wrong, but now, especially in the last 10 to 15 years, there's been a trend towards school resource officers being placed in the schools and teachers calling the police if there's some disciplinary problem in the classroom. We had a client once who was arrested after burping loudly in the classroom and placed in handcuffs and removed from the school before he was even disciplined at all officially by the school. So, it's a way to leapfrog over the due process rights of students. But even worse than that is it takes students when they are at their most vulnerable and criminalizes whatever problem they may be having.

Shannon Kennedy: 

One of the studies that we discovered in representing children who were being removed from school in handcuffs is that many of these arrests took place right before lunch, so students would get antsy and rowdy and do class clowns, do what kids do. And instead of just de-escalating the situation or writing a student up, you should go to detention, or you should do whatever, sit in the corner, teachers were calling the police and disrupting the child's entire life, and then that student would be driven from school down to a detention center, and the parents wouldn't even know this was happening, and they would get a call from the jail, "Come pick your student up." This was happening in the public schools in the city of Albuquerque. And my law partner and I filed a class action lawsuit to change the standard operating procedures so that school resource officers were trained not to arrest students for non-violent misdemeanor crimes in the public schools.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Let's back up a little bit. What would be the motivation for the schools to do this, to escalate like that, Shannon?

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, I think the motivation is to get rid of students they don't like, and what is truly awful about the public school-prison pipeline is it just like the prison systems in the jails all across America; they're disproportionately full of students of color and people of color. Statistical studies show nationwide that if you're African-American, you're three times more likely to be arrested from the public schools for minor disruptive behavior, and the other class of students that are discriminated against within the pipeline, or put in the pipeline, are those students who are disabled. And so what you see, the unconscious bias of you're being generous, and call it unconscious bias is that it's a way to get rid of students that the school administrators just don't wanna have to deal with, and disproportionately, these students tend to be from ethnic minorities and populations of students who have disabilities, either learning disabilities or physical disabilities, specifically students suffering from autism, for example.

Shannon Kennedy: 

You'll have an autistic child having a melt down because he wasn't accommodated, and we've seen autistic children handcuffed to chairs. So, it's just an awful, awful trend across this country, and it's going absolutely in the wrong direction, because what happens is that these young people are completely disenfranchised from our communities, and they don't reach their full human potential, the consequences are devastating. Hopefully, through the civil rights litigation, it's been going now for the last 15 years to oppose this kind of behavior on the part of school administrators and police departments, hopefully that now we know things have to change.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So you alluded a little to this a minute ago, there have been some systemic changes put in place though, right? On the local level because of the work your firm has done.

Shannon Kennedy: 

Absolutely. There's SOP within the City of Albuquerque Police Department where officers no longer arrested students and took them to the home for non-violent misdemeanor crimes. It reduced the number of arrests in one year from the public schools by I think approximately 130, was the drop. And it didn't do anything but make the schools safer. What's really tragic is that police officers should be role models to students because good police officers are out there saving lives, and instead they're put in opposition to students, and it's just a disservice to the entire community. Also, the resources and the funding that goes into putting police officers in schools could be going towards providing school counselors and mental health medical care to those students within the schools, such as autistic students that need support and help from counselors and social workers instead of criminalizing their disabilities.

Rob Rosenthal: 

And you've also had some effect on the federal level too. Tell me about that.

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, we have some federal civil rights cases, especially when we have seen police officers use tasers against students after they're handcuffed and restrained. There's been cases across the country where federal courts have found that it's unconstitutional, and that officers are on notice, that it's unconstitutional to tase a child who's handcuffed, even though that seems so obvious to any normal parent or a person whose student could be tased while at school. Sadly, it's happened. The other thing that's happened trend-wise is police officers in schools now have body-worn cameras, so we have the evidence that shows just how ugly and horrific it looks when you have a grown person placing handcuffs on a school child. And, because of the video that has been played across this country and communities being shocked by the behavior they see about little children being handcuffed, that I think the hearts and minds of Americans has turned against having police officers use handcuffs and tasers against school children.

Rob Rosenthal: 

You, obviously, you're there in New Mexico, but it sounds like you're saying this is something that's happening all across the country. Is it improving, is the situation improving in your opinion? Are we seeing some... Are things getting better?

Shannon Kennedy: 

I do believe things are getting better. We have prosecutors now, criminal prosecutors now, who are prosecuting police officers who are caught on their body-worn cameras abusing disabled children. So, there has been a shift in perception. I think starting with the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Just Say No to Drugs, and the gestalt in the country where it was very pro-punishment and law enforcement. I think we've now shifted to a more compassionate approach to every aspect of the criminal justice system, and we're understanding that it's a zero-sum game, and that we have to stop criminalizing the despair of people, and we need to approach everyone in the public schools and in our communities with compassion, and that we are in the middle of a mental health crisis in our public schools, and with COVID making it so difficult for teachers to function within the public schools that there has to be a reckoning and a new approach to education.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Fascinating conversation every time we talk Shannon. Thank you so much for making some time to answer our questions.

Shannon Kennedy: 

You're welcome.

Rob Rosenthal: 

That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask The Lawyer. My guest has been New Mexico attorney Shannon Kennedy. I remind you, if you'd like to ask Shannon questions about your situation, go to askthelawyers.com, click the button up at the top that says Ask a Lawyer, and it'll walk you through the very simple process right there. Thanks for watching. I'm Rob Rosenthal for Ask the Lawyers.

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