The sealing of the school-to-prison pipeline in Meridian, Miss. has officially started after a U.S. District Court judge approved what the Department of Justice is calling "a landmark consent decree" that features a "far-reaching plan to reform discipline practices ... that unlawfully channel black students out of their classrooms and, too often, into the criminal justice system.
In March, the Justice Department reached agreement with the Meridian Public School District to decrease excessive suspensions and expulsions of mostly young black students for trivial infractions like wearing the wrong colored socks. Kids were lucky if they were only suspended -- in many of these cases, schools called the police to arrest the students, as young as 10 years old, and send them to juvenile facilities, as reporter Julianne Hing found last November.
This consent decree essentially cancels most, if not all, police intervention for any issues that ca be "safely and appropriately handled under school disciplinary procedures." This includes: disorderly conduct, school disturbances and disruptions, loitering, trespassing, profanity, dress code violations, and fighting that doesn't include physical injury or weapons. Further, the school district can not share any information on students' discipline records with any law enforcement agency unless court-ordered. It also requires schools to track discipline data, including by race, and then take corrective action if they find racial disparities.
Last month, Jocelyn Samuels, deputy assistant attorney general for DOJ's civil rights division, told Hing that Meridian "is just the tip of the iceberg," and that this consent decree could be a model for tackling the national problem of excessive punishment of black students.
Yesterday, Samuels said in a press release: "The consent decree approved by the court today will propel meaningful reform in Meridian schools and serve as a blueprint for school districts across the country. We commend the Meridian Public School District for its commitment to keeping its students in safe and inclusive classrooms, and out of the school-to-prison pipeline."
A separate lawsuit DOJ filed against the Meridian Police Department, Lauderdale County Youth Court and the State of Mississippi is still pending -- the cops have not been let off the hook.