Eliminating the Pipeline

Why have our children become referrals, serial numbers, bodies forced into a system? We’ve lost complete sight of innocent until proven guilty, especially when it comes to our children.

Every adult that a child interacts with during the school day has the potential to make the decision to criminalize child-like behavior and further the school-to-prison pipeline. That is why the Equity in Education Coalition and Washington State Minority and Justice Commission are working together to bring you a five-part professional growth series, connecting schools and educators with courts and those working in the justice system to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline.

When children are referred to courts for school behavior it can result in criminalization; creating a criminal record, criminal debt, or in some instances detention. The Washington State Minority and Justice Commission recognizes that a disproportionate number of court-involved youth are children of color, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and children with disabilities. The Commission seeks to address and highlight the important role that courts can play in redirecting and reconnecting court-involved youth to education and social supports in their communities.


Highlights from our last workshops!

Workshop #5

We saw major themes bubble up:

  • Courts are not effective in stopping the pipeline. Courts can tell children to go to school, but they cannot fulfill our children’s needs.
  • Often courts, schools, and the justice system work under paradigms of white supremacy, where behaviors that aren’t acceptable in a white classroom are punished.
  • Many of the institutions involved in the pipeline operate in silos, further undermining the work of parent and child advocates moving to change the justice system.

We heard a harrowing story about a mother trying to get her incarcerated son access to the GED.

Marium Marshall, an advocate and community leader, entered with a thick stack of discipline referrals her children received in public school. She thumbed through them. One for her son when he fell asleep in class. Another for nibbling on a snack out of his backpack.

Marium’s son is currently incarcerated, and has been enrolled in a GED program as a part of Juvenile Rehabilitation (JR). When Marium learned her son’s GED program was being transferred to the manufacturing division of JR, she called her son’s case manager and program manager to figure out a way to get her son access to his GED. After insufficient answers, Marium sought help from her State Representative, and later Congressman Adam Smith. And even after all of her struggles through juvenile justice and political systems, she’s still on a quest to get her son the rehabilitation he was promised and deserves.

“You spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate him, and you said you’d rehabilitate him,” Marium pointed out. “Is this rehabilitation? What does rehabilitation look like?”

People sitting at a table
From left to right: Marium Marshall, advocate of criminal justice reform; Sammie Alizadeh, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; Judge Wesley Saint Clair, King County Superior Court; Richard Devenport, attorney fighting for kids in JR facilities across the state; and Willard C. Jimerson Jr., community activist, youth advocate, and anti-racist strategist.

We heard from an incredible string of panelists. 

Judge Saint Clair noted that he could have retired two years ago, but instead, chose to continue to oversee King County’s justice system. “Without me there, who’s going to tell them that it’s racist? Who’s going to say your implicit bias is all over this?”

“I know one thing for certain, white people love data. I don’t need data. I have real life experience. I’m an expert,” Willard Jimerson made clear. Willard also established that courts are not meant to disrupt, and that they are working just as they were intended.

Classrooms are “punishing behaviors that aren’t acceptable in a white classroom,” explained Richard Devenport. The “curriuclum didn’t jive with what I know of my people,” he continued, citing how his school celebrated Thanksgiving and wore paper bag hats to do so. When Richard was younger he was arrested by school resource officers four times, and knows from experience that it is “much easier to skip school in prison.”

As a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Sammie Alizadeh noted that there are some good practices happening in King County. She always makes sure to ask if kids are getting their homework when disciplined, and said that King County does not incarcerate kids for not going to school.

How do we take action? 

Judge Saint Clair encouraged our communities to get involved in the school board. These “shadow elected bodies” direct superintendents, principals, and overall school culture and policy.

Richard Devenport invited everyone to take a visit to a juvenile court in King County. “I haven’t seen a single white kid,” he added.


Workshop #4

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction released proposed discipline rules, changing the landscape of student discipline in Washington State.

Overall, our panelists and parents and teachers attending believed that the proposed rules are a step in the right direction, but ultimately, fall short.

  • Pros:
    • No more zero tolerance policy
    • Educational services offered when students are not in the classroom because of disciplinary action
  • Cons:
    • Language used is too vague, leaving too much room for worst practices to continue, no accountability, and no clear definitions on important concepts like “cultural competency”


Quotes of the night:

“There are many reasons why children act out but we aren’t talking about any of them,” said parent and community advocate, Halisi Ali-El. She continued by urging OSPI to make rules with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in mind.

“Really OSPI is trying to get rid of subjective violations…With these new rules we can say goodbye to zero tolerance….With these rules, out-of-school discipline shouldn’t be used when students act out, talk back, our violate the dress code,” argued Paul Alig, the Managing Attorney in TeamChild’s Pierce County office.

Renton public school teacher Tymmony Keegan said, “The word that’s scratching me is discipline. Let’s just call it what it is: it’s a punishment policy.”

A parent attending questioned OSPI’s data: “My boys are of color and they get disciplined all the time, but it’s not written down. Is the data even right?”


Workshop #3

Women speaking.

A teacher told Fartun Mohamed’s son that a “C is good enough for you” and “Maybe instead of being a Doctor, you should come up with a plan B.”

To eliminate the school to prison pipeline, we need teachers to check themselves before they wreck our kids.

Fartun Mohamed, a Mother and Organizer for Somali Parents Education Board, offered this personal example to show how a teacher’s biases, both implicit and explicit, can negatively alter children’s aspirations, and play a part in steering them away from education.



Women speaking.


Ask yourself, “would I be saying this to a child if they were white?”

Carolyn Cole, of the Minority and Justice Commission in the Washington Courts, offers a tip on how to check your bias. She stresses the importance of everyone getting into the habit of “checking” themselves, and using questions like these to steer yourself.





People sitting at a table speaking.

“Our system is penalizing kids for being kids.”

Judge Nicole Gaines Phelps addresses parents, teachers, and school administrators in an open panel discussion.





Workshop Schedule

  1. Before we begin: Understanding why racial equity in education is important
    Thursday, April 27,  5:30-8:30
  2. Entering the pipeline: Early learning and discipline
    Friday, June 9 5:30-8:30
  3. Through the pipeline (Part I): Discipline in the school building
    Date: Thursday, September 14,  5:30-8:30
  4. Through The Pipeline (Part II): Action and reaction
    Date: Thursday, November 9,  5:30-8:30
  5. Into the Courthouse: Courts igniting change
    Date: TBD