Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

We believe that all students deserve a safe, quality education free from bullying and harassment and we work hard to help Georgia school districts pass policies that are inclusive of LGBTQ youth.

However, in their zeal to address peer-to-peer bullying and harassment, policy makers and school officials across the country have often adopted harsh, zero-tolerance discipline policies and practices – such as suspensions, expulsions and arrests – that exclude students from school. This unyielding approach to discipline results in students being pushed out of school and placed onto a path into the criminal justice system called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The students primarily harmed by this approach are students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth.

Zero-tolerance disciplinary measures fail to address the root causes of bullying or end the cycle of bullying by teaching appropriate behavior. Responding to bullying with harsh discipline measures often hurts the very students they are designed to protect. To defend themselves, victims of bullying may carry weapons or employ other survival tactics that endanger the school community. As a result, those who have been bullied are more vulnerable to being suspended, expelled and arrested.http://equalityfederation.salsalabs.com/o/35006/images/stpp%20lgbt%20protest.jpg

So-called “bullies” are typically youth struggling with their own insecurities (about intelligence, social skills, physical appearance, gender expression, etc.) and are just learning to understand themselves. Interventions that rely on exclusion and criminalization miss critical opportunities to respond students’ unique needs and teach misguided youth the social and emotional skills they will need to grow into healthy adults.

Zero tolerance practices and student-on-student bullying often affect students in the same way, resulting in lower academic scores, truancy, psychological trauma, diminished self-worth, acting out due to frustration or embarrassment, and dropping out of school altogether. Schools essentially become the bullies when they employ “get tough” tactics to address bullying.

Instead of criminalizing youth misbehavior, policymakers should implement common sense solutions that make schools safe environments for all students. Instead of pushing kids out of school, they should train teachers, administrators and security officers, invest more in guidance counselors and school psychologists, and facilitate the re-entry and re-enrollment of students returning from expulsions and long-term suspensions.

The Georgia Safe Schools Coalition in partnership with Georgia Equality work together to create a balance in Georgia schools by encouraging comprehensive anti-bullying policies that include LGBTQ youth, while simultaneously training teachers to properly and effectively respond to bullying in a way that does not re-victimize students and send them into the school-to-prison-pipeline.

If you are interested in learning more about the school-to-prison-pipeline check out the Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right report released by the National GSA Network, Advancement Project, and Alliance for Educational Justice.

We also encourage all Georgia folks to attend the “2nd Annual South Star: Safe Schools Convening of the South” in Atlanta, on September 15, 2012. South Star is a regional convening to discuss the intersections between the safe schools movement for LGBT students and the school-to-prison-pipeline.

If you are a teacher or school administrator interested in a safe space training, please email info@georgiasafeschoolscoalition.org.

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