The school-to-prison pipeline in North Carolina Part II: Who, where and how

October 2013

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WHOM does the StPP impact most?

The StPP negatively impacts everyone by damaging school environments; hurting public safety; decreasing economic productivity; and wasting scarce resources on policing, jails, and prisons. It disproportionately impacts male students, Black students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities. For example, during 2011-12:

  •  49.4% of Black students in grades three through eight passed all of their EOG exams, compared to 79.3% of White students;
  •  68.6% of Black high students passed all of their EOC exams, compared to 89.0% of White students;
  •  The four-year cohort graduation rate was 8.7 percentage points higher for White students than for Black students;
  •  The short-term suspension rate for Black students was 4.2 times greater than the rate for White students;
  •  The long-term suspension rate for Black students was 4.1 times greater than the rate for White students; and
  • Black students were 26.3% of the total student population but were 46.1% of student placements in alternative learning programs.

WHERE is the StPP the worst?

Determining school districts where the StPP is the worst depends on the metric being used.  For example:

During 2012-13, the following districts had the lowest four-year cohort graduation rates: Vance County (64.9%); Hoke County (70.5%); Thomasville City (71.4%); Weldon City (72.4%); Scotland County (72.8%); Richmond County (74.1%); and Halifax County (74.8%).

During 2011-12, the following districts had the highest rates of short-term suspension per 100 students: Halifax County (58.4); Weldon City (54.7); Anson County (46.5); Northampton County (44.6); Martin County (41.5); Edgecombe County (40.9); Vance County (40.8); and Greene County (40.6).

During 2011-12, the following districts had the highest rates of long-term suspension per 1,000 students: Anson County (9.2); Pitt County (6.5); Person County (4.8); Transylvania County (4.0); Cabarrus County (3.8); Franklin County (3.5); and Lee County (3.11).

During 2011-12, the following districts had the most uses of corporal punishment: Robeson County (267); Graham County (43); Columbus County (36); and McDowell County (29).

During the 2008-09 state fiscal year, the following counties had the most school-based delinquency complaints filed against students age 15 and younger: Guilford (1,237); Mecklenburg (1,193); Wake (802); Cumberland (640); Robeson (506); Forsyth (497); Nash (446); Pitt (428); Buncombe (422); and New Hanover (413).

HOW will the StPP be dismantled?

Dismantling the pipeline begins with providing school districts adequate funding and resources, which they do not currently have. Then, school districts can take four steps to dismantle the StPP, as well as improve safety.

First, districts can prevent misbehavior in the first place by:

Setting clear, consistent expectations;

  • Engaging students through rigorous curriculum and instruction, and providing ample course selection, instructional resources, and co-curricular activities;
  •  Having staff who: have sufficient time to collaborate, plan, and provide individualized attention to students; are caring, loving, patient, and supportive; and are well-trained in cultural competency, students’ and parents’ rights, adolescent development, working with students who have disabilities and mental health issues, and positive classroom management;
  •  Implementing and following with fidelity school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), character education, bullying prevention, and social and emotional learning;
  • Creating a sense of community through small schools and classes, town hall meetings, and school celebrations and other events;
  • Creating and following truly individualized Personal Education Plans (PEPs) for students at risk of academic failure and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities; and
  •  Implementing parent engagement initiatives, such as parent liaisons and mentors, trainings and workshops, newsletters, and home visits.

Second, districts can further improve school safety and dismantle the StPP by mandating support teams for all students who exhibit misbehavior. The teams should be made up of the student, student’s family, teachers, administrators, support staff, and other important people in the student’s life (e.g., physician, therapist, psychiatrist, mentor, tutor, coach, religious leader, close family friend, etc.). The teams should begin by gathering information to determine the cause(s) of the student’s misbehavior (called a “functional behavioral assessment” in the special education context). Then, the teams should develop plan that includes individualized interventions, such as counseling, social work services, mentoring, substance abuse treatment, and support groups. Finally, the teams should monitor the interventions and make necessary adjustments.

Third, districts can limit out-of-school suspensions and court referrals by:

Passing policies that prohibit the use of out-of-school suspension for minor misbehavior;

  • Creating agreements with law enforcement agencies and court systems that improve training and prohibit arrests and court referrals for minor misbehavior; and
  •  Ensuring the availability and use of high-quality alternatives to out-of-school suspensions and court referrals, including restorative justice, community service, restitution, detention, Saturday school, alternative learning centers, and alternative schools.
  • Finally, districts should promote buy in, collective wisdom, transparency, and accountability by:
  •  Establishing school-based committees of students, parents, teachers, support staff, administrators, and community members to review data, programs, policies, practices, and stakeholder input regularly;
  • Collecting and publishing annually disaggregated data about in-school suspensions, bus suspensions, short-term suspensions, long-term suspensions, 365-day suspensions, expulsions, alternative program and school placements, arrests, and court referrals;
  •  Regularly evaluating prevention efforts, interventions, and alternatives to suspension and court referrals;
  • Providing students facing out-of-school suspension and involuntary transfer to alternative schools with adequate due process; and
  •  Having clear, well-publicized, unbiased complaint procedures for students and staff to use when security personnel (e.g., SROs and private security guards) misbehave.

Advocacy Efforts

Fortunately, organizations across North Carolina are working to dismantle the StPP. Below are some examples.

Action for Children North Carolina is a statewide, independent, non-partisan, non-profit child advocacy organization, dedicated to educating and engaging all people across the state to ensure that our children are healthy, safe, well-educated and have every opportunity for success. Action for Children works to ensure that all at-risk and court-involved minors have access to the developmentally appropriate, research-based services they need to turn their lives around by: 1) analyzing the current data and research on child well-being and presenting it in user-friendly format for policymakers, advocates, and the general public; 2) working with the media to educate North Carolinians about how children in our state are faring and how we can improve their lives; 3) providing technical assistance to communities statewide on how to use data and research to improve conditions for children and young people; 4) bringing together partner organizations to pool knowledge and coordinate public policy approaches; 5) informing law makers and community advocates of public policies and programs that benefit children and young people; and 6) serving as a catalyst and source of information. Thanks in part to Action for Children North Carolina’s leadership, more of our disadvantaged young people are receiving the community-based services they need to flourish. For more information, contact Brandy Bynum at or 919-834-6623.

Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS) is a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC). LANC is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove barriers to economic opportunity. ACS works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and achieve education justice through: 1) legal advocacy on behalf of children in low-income families and foster care in cases such as enrollment, academic failure, special education, suspension, expulsion, and discrimination; 2) community education in the form of presentations, trainings, publications, and media outreach; and 3) collaboration with policymakers, educators, service providers, and advocates. ACS’ advocacy has resulted in significant reforms to school discipline laws, policies, and practices, as well as improved educational outcomes for its clients. To learn more, contact Jason Langberg ( or 919-226-5901) and visit its website.

The Council for Children’s Rights (CFCR) leads our community to stand up for every child’s right to be safe, healthy, and educated. CFCR understands the need to address the school-to-prison pipeline and achieve education justice through providing individual advocacy and holistic representation on behalf of at-risk children in Mecklenburg County and the surrounding area in cases involving access to education, academic failure, special education, suspension, expulsion, and discrimination. CFCR also provides community education in the form of presentations and trainings to empower families and community partners. In addition, CFCR collaborates with policymakers and with many local stakeholders to address disparate outcomes for youth of color through the Race Matters for Juvenile Justice community collaborative, the NC Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee, the Juvenile Justice Committee and the Mecklenburg Model Court Committee.  To learn more, contact CFCR ( or call 704-372-7961.

The Children’s Law Clinic is a community law office that provides free legal advice, advocacy, and legal representation to low-income children. The Clinic is staffed by Duke Law students and two supervising attorneys who advocate for at-risk children. Since its establishment in 2002, the Children’s Law Clinic has represented hundreds of children from a wide region around Durham. Its primary areas of expertise are school discipline, special education, and children’s disability. Most of the work of the Clinic involves individual representation of students but the Clinic also engages in policy work and advocacy. It also participates in a Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in which area pediatricians and their staffs are trained with regard to legal issues facing their patients and given the ability to refer those patients for legal representation. The Children’s Law Clinic serves children in an 11-county region in central North Carolina (Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Durham, Granville, Franklin, Orange, Person, Vance, Wake, and Warren). As a result of the Clinic’s representation of public school children facing suspension from school last year, the number of days that those children were in school rather than out of school was increased by an aggregate of nearly 600 days. To learn more, visit thewebsite or call the Clinic at 919-613-7169.

The Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children (CCCAAC) believes that parents and communities are the voices of our children and as responsible adults we shape the foundation for our children’s future. Our goal is to empower parents to become effective advocates for their children while providing them with information on the Wake County Public School System’s laws, policies, and procedures that govern our children. The CCCAAC closely monitors educational and discipline issues including: in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, short- and long-term suspension. The CCCAAC strives to assist parents in helping their children make choices that will enhance their children’s educational opportunities. For more information, contact Calla Wright at 919-231-9057 or

The Education Justice Alliance (EJA) is a non-partisan grassroots group in North Carolina participating in civic engagement efforts. EJA is a group of concerned individuals, particularly parents and active members of the community, working for a reduction in the number of public school students pushed off the academic track in Wake County because of unfair suspensions, harsh discipline policies, and academic underachievement. EJA works to dismantle the public school-to-prison pipeline by informing parents, students, educators and community members on the issues at hand, partnering with other local organizations in order to take collective action, and remaining involved within the community by way of monthly meetings and other events that continuously echo EJA’s dedication to this issue. The alliance’s determinacy has provided them with opportunities to take action and make a difference across the county, even if on a smaller scale, serving as advocates for the students. To learn more about the Education Justice Alliance, contact Chelsey Brown at or visit EJA’s website.

The Education and Law Project of the North Carolina Justice Center seeks to improve or reform pre-K – 12 public education through policy advocacy, community engagement, research and publications, and litigation. One mission of the project is to ensure fair discipline policies for all North Carolina students. To that end, we have worked in the General Assembly to pass the first revision of the state’s discipline statute in over 20 years.  We ensured that the law eliminated zero tolerance and provided fairer hearing panels for students. We have also represented an English Language Learning student who was forced to sign a statement that he was in a gang and sent to an alternative school regardless of the truth and in spite of the fact the student was unable to understand what he was signing. Project staff members conduct community trainings, provide information for the press, and work in coalitions with other advocates to examine best practices for making schools safe without over-criminalizing student conduct. For more information about the Education and Law Project including staff member contacts, please visit ourwebsite.

Since 2003, Hidden Voices has collaborated with underrepresented communities to create award-winning works that combine narrative, mapping, performance, music, digital media, animation, and interactive exhibits to engage audiences and participants in explorations of difficult issues. Our current multimedia collaboration, None of the Above: dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, shares the voices of those most affected by this pipeline: students, teachers, administrators, parents, attorneys, juvenile justice officials, the incarcerated, school resource officers, advocates, and others. Based on interviews and workshops in more than 20 counties, the performances, interactive exhibit, and digital media bring these North Carolinians center stage to share their experiences and offer their best solutions for dismantling it. The interactive gallery installation includes portraits of students imitating their worst teachers and teachers imitating their worst students; digital media; critical mapping; classroom desks; and other artifacts created by artists and stakeholders around the state. The exhibit opens in each venue with a community reading of monologues from the performance. For more information about the exhibit and readings, please contact Lynden Harris or 919-732-9299.

North Carolina Heroes Emerging Among Teens (NC HEAT) is a youth-led organization, supported by the adult allies of the Youth Organizing Institute (YOI) and others. We use peer education and organizing campaigns to advocate for youth liberation. It is our aim to end the school-to-prison-pipeline, promote safety and security for LGBTQ students, and secure resources and equality for immigrant youth. We recently launched a campaign for a moratorium of out-of-school suspensions in Wake County, in collaboration with YOI and the Education Justice Alliance (EJA). To learn more contact Q Wideman at and visit our website.

The Office of the Juvenile Defender (OJD), a division of the Office of Indigent Defense Services, is a state agency supporting indigent defense counsel representing youth in delinquency court, on appeal, and in the criminal courts. Specifically OJD’s four part mission is to provide services and support to defense attorneys, to evaluate the current system of representation and make recommendations as needed, to elevate the stature of juvenile delinquency representation, and to work with other juvenile justice actors to promote positive change in the juvenile justice system. OJD works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by providing tactics and strategies to defenders representing youth charged on school property, serving on local, state, and national boards and committees addressing the issue, and partnering with other organizations to influence policy and provide technical assistance on the issue. OJD has been successful in bringing more tools to defenders and influencing both court and policy decisions impacting youth charged in educational settings. For more information, visit its website.

Parents Supporting Parents (PSP) is a non-profit educational advocacy group that operates primarily in Guilford County. When requested, they will assist parents in other counties. PSP is to working to end the school-to-prison pipeline through empowering parents by helping them to understand and navigate the educational system. They advocate for children on all levels of the Guilford County Schools. They have served on taskforces, committees, and advisory councils. Believing that ending the school-to-prison pipeline can be achieved by means of ending zero tolerance policies and practices, and by educating parents about their rights and their children’s rights, they bring issues in front of the Board of Education and recommend solutions. Dedicated to the needs of parents and students, they support both by attending parent-teacher conferences; Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings to assist students in receiving a free and appropriate public education (FAPE); manifestation determination reviews (MDRs) to prevent suspensions over ten days; and suspension appeal hearings to prevents long-term suspensions. To learn more contact Lissa Harris at 336-508-1356 or Linda Mozell at 336-457-7070 or visit its website.

Public Schools First NC (PSFNC) and Great Schools in Wake (GSIW), both projects of WakeUP Wake County, understands and communicates the close linkage between student achievement and the school-to-prison pipeline. Specifically, we advocate for “a healthy and safe school climate with consistent discipline practices that promote fair and respectful treatment of students and encourage students to stay in school and graduate.” GSIW members attend all Wake County Board meetings to monitor and weigh in on student discipline policies. In addition, we have co-developed materials with partners including Advocates for Children’s Services and shared information with other advocates and educators. For more information, contact Patty Williams at or 919-576-0655.

SpiritHouse Inc., a Durham, NC based cultural arts and organizing collective, uses art and media to support the empowerment and transformation of communities most impacted by racism, poverty, gender discrimination, and the school-to-prison pipeline through grassroots programs, cultural organizing, and community collaborations. We pursue our mission by developing programs that: 1) create community-driven strategies designed to address and improve conditions in our lives; 2) tell culturally relevant stories of underrepresented, everyday folk; 3) encourage increased civic engagement by people of color, women, and teens for primary leadership roles within our communities; and 4) connect community members with community partners who can help us all meet our needs. For more information please visit our website.

The UNC Juvenile Justice Clinic works to extricate youth from the school-to-pipeline through individual client representation, education, and policy advocacy. Third year law students serving as student attorneys incorporate a young person’s educational records and history into their representation of youth in delinquency cases. This year, the Clinic has begun serving as counsel to a youth in both delinquency cases and school exclusion cases based on a belief that representation for each type of proceeding will be enhanced as a result. By learning both delinquency and school law, student attorneys can graduate and go on to become effective advocates against the pipeline and for youth justice. Clinic faculty research, write, and publish issue briefs and scholarly journals on topics of school policing, zealous advocacy for attorneys for youth, and the necessity of holistic representation for young people caught in the pipeline. For more information, contact Barbara Fedders at or 919-962-2623.

The Youth Organizing Institute is a project of Action for Community in Raleigh that focuses on youth empowerment through their development as leaders in the community. We work with primarily students of color, working class, and LGBT youth as a means to work with communities directly affected by social justice issues, such as the school-to-prison pipeline. We offer a summer long program and seasonal trainings that include understanding of student rights in the school system, movement history of the South, intersectionalities of social justice movements, and other essential skills for organizing. To learn more contact Elena Everett at and visit our website.