Milwaukee Students Win First Round In Fight Vs. School-to-Prison Pipeline

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"Scholars, Not Suspects"

Story for The UpTake by Tracey Pollock

Milwaukee, Wis.
High school students across Milwaukee are not happy that Milwaukee Public Schools have implemented a new policy of mandatory metal-detector screening before every school day. After a protest was held at Riverside University High School — a public school — the School board has agreed to hold a public meeting to discuss the new policy. The meeting date and time is undetermined as of yet, but students and community members look forward to having an open forum about the new policy.

The student campaign, “Scholars not Suspects,” was begun by a group of concerned students who collected petition signatures against the screenings while arguing the screenings caused them to miss class time, receive tardy notes from teachers and led to their being racially profiled, all contributing to what they call the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I strongly disagree with (the school system) mandating metal detectors in schools,” said Hassan Hayder, organizer and a junior at Riverside. “Students themselves do not agree with it either, they are strongly against it. It is a waste of time and students are getting to classes late in the mornings. This definitely contributes to the school to prison pipeline, because if you start detecting students through metal scans and invading their privacy, they are going to feel like criminals from the start. They will think it’s the norm and why not just start acting like a criminal now, what difference does it make?”

The school to prison pipeline refers to the theory that when children are treated like criminals and denied a good education, they are more likely to end up in prison or juvenile detention centers. Men of color in Milwaukee face one of the highest rates of incarceration in the nation and Milwaukee Public Schools have faced massive cuts over the past few years. Students are fighting for a better environment to learn and thrive in.

The campaign was quickly taken on by Youth Empowered in the Struggle, the youth arm of the immigrant rights organization Voces de la Frontera, which helped organize the protest at Riverside. They are working with students at five high schools across the city, including Riverside University High School, Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School, ALAS High School, Casimir Pulaski High School and Hamilton High School.

“Riverside was highlighted in their campaign because there had not been a metal detector at this school prior to the new mandate,” said Kika Francisca, organizer with Youth Empowered in the Struggle. “A lot of our students already have a lot of negative experiences with police and security and they shouldn’t have to go to school and deal with it again.”

Francisca, now a University of Wisconsin Milwaukee junior, said that when she attended a Milwaukee public high school there was sometimes a police presence at her school or random scans, but that students were never required to participate in daily screenings.

Milwaukee Public Schools has had a policy in effect since the early 1990s of metal detectors at some schools and requires students to be scanned if there is perceived to be an imminent threat. But the policy was expanded this year with mandatory screening at all schools in what was called a preemptive measure to reduce violence that does not have a real impact on the school day.

Students strongly disagree, saying that some have missed their entire homeroom or first hour of school. When this happens, students are receiving tardy slips from their teachers since there is not a policy in place to deal with lateness due to the long lines at the metal detectors. Some students also say they are having negative experiences with the security guards.

“There have been many different accounts of students who have (heard) racial slurs while in line from security guards,” said Haydar. “Teachers are against it too. They don’t like it because students are showing up late to class and even missing the entire first hours because the scans are taking so long.”

A spokesperson for The Milwaukee Public School Board did not return our call for comment.

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