A criminalized school climate is the wrong path

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In the Nov. 15 article on the decrease in court referrals from Brashear High School (“Concerns Raised Over Brashear Discipline”), Magistrate District Judge James A. Motznik presents the wrong solution for the wrong problem. Instead of advocating for increased court referrals, local judges should be pushing for smart school climate reforms that dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline while making schools safer.

Increasing referrals to magistrate courts for minor school discipline problems greatly increases the chances of criminalizing benign student missteps. Does a high school sophomore need to appear in court because she brought a cell phone to school or is late to class? It’s unlikely Judge Motznik or other local judges would support that notion.

At the Education Law Center, we’ve seen firsthand the damage a criminalized school climate can inflict on students, including less-safe schools, lower achievement and higher dropout rates.

To be sure, school safety is the paramount concern. The Pittsburgh district is working hard to use its limited resources to create a safe and supportive school environment that utilizes evidence-based practices, including schoolwide positive support programs, restorative justice practices and the elimination of overzealous zero-tolerance policies.

All students thrive in a safe and supportive environment. Pittsburgh has engaged students, parents, school personnel and community members and is committed to getting it right. This approach, which engages the whole school community and is based on solid research, is an excellent first step to creating a safe school environment for all students.

Staff Attorney
Education Law Center

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