STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
Southwest Colorado students and teachers are gathering at a Durango workshop this weekend to help end criminalization of students for such minor offenses as writing on desks or talking back to teachers.
Many of the students caught in the cycle of criminalization are students of color.
The workshop at the Durango Adult Education Center is part of the statewide “End the School-to-Jail” campaign sponsored by Padres & Jóvenes Unidos (Parents and Youths United) of Denver. Campañeros, a Durango-based immigrant resource center, co-hosted the event.
The school-to-jail track is when kids commit minor offenses and are issued citations or even arrested by police, Sarah Brown, a Padres & Jóvenes’ statewide organizer and leader of the workshop, said Saturday.
Brown said that before school districts adopted zero-tolerance rules, administrators used in-school discipline. With the advent of stricter policies, students, particularly minorities, were treated like criminals.
When these students get a ticket or are arrested, “they feel like they’re a bad kid,” even if they’ve done something as relatively minor as writing on a desk, Brown said.
She said that as many as 10,000 Colorado students are referred to police every year. Very few of those “crimes” are serious, such as bringing a gun to school, she said.
In May, Colorado passed Senate Bill 46, or the Smart School Discipline Law, designed to end the zero-tolerance policy.
Zero-tolerance laws and policies were implemented after such incidents as the Columbine shooting.
While the bill and education campaigns have helped reduce the number of students referred to police, it primarily has helped white students, Brown said.
Students of color and gay/bisexual/transgender students still are being treated like criminals at approximately the same level as before the legislation, she said.
The workshop, which will continue today, also is facilitated by two students who work with Padres & Jóvenes.
Ezana Alem and Vale Cordova, both 17, told the attendees Saturday that Hispanic students in particular are targeted for extreme punishment.
Among the “crimes” that Hispanic students were charged with included speaking Spanish in school. Students in the Denver Public Schools were forced to eat lunch on the floor as punishment for speaking their native language.
DPS ended its zero-tolerance policy in 2005.
Among the reasons for the criminalization of minor behavioral problems is the growing “prison industrial complex” of private prisons that need more inmates to make a profit, Brown said.
She said this prison industrial complex was behind the 2010 Arizona immigration law that allowed law-enforcement officers to stop anyone who “looks liked an illegal alien” to ask for proof of citizenship or legal residency.
She also said that the demand for tough sanctions against students, particularly Hispanics, came from the anti-immigrant stance of the “1 percent” who control society.
This institutional racism, Brown said, accompanied other issues, such as racial profiling, police brutality and dehumanization of minorities, such as calling Hispanics “illegal aliens” even when they are native-born or legal residents.
Among the activities the workshop attendees are learning is how to facilitate students telling their stories of criminalization and discrimination. They also are learning to how to recognize homophobia, how to conduct street theater and how to organize in their schools and communities.