Are Schools Creating Prisoners?

pushout profile picJavon, a 14 year old freshmen in high school, woke up this morning like every other morning, not realizing his life was about to take a turn for the worse.  To describe Javon one would say he is a youthful and fun spirit, has an amazing singing voice, and he is quite popular among the girls.  He wants to go to Columbia College for Theater Directing.  He is very respectful to all his teachers which he is known for, but there is just one thing different about him.  Javon came out as gay at the age of 12 to his Mom.  He felt safe when he told his Mom, and because she accepted him, he didn’t care what others had to say to him . . . until today.

As Javon is walking down the hall being himself, hanging with a group of his friends, another group of guys walk by.  Within seconds, he is called “punk” “sissy” “faggot” and “homo.”  He is used to the name calling and usually lets it roll off his back but today it turns physical. He is pushed and knocked over by one of the guys in the group.  Javon, blacks out and when he comes to, he is being pulled off the boy who pushed him.  There is blood and Javon can’t figure out why he has a major grip on his algebra book.

A few hours later, Javon is sitting in the Principal’s office hunched over, shaking with his Mom is sitting next to him.  “Expelling him seems a little too harsh given he has never done anything like this before,” she says.

“Mrs. Jackson, he broke the other student’s nose and his parents are looking at pressing charges.  We have a Zero Tolerance Policy in this school and unfortunately, my hands are tied when it comes to the policy.”

Javon sits there quietly wondering what just happened?  If he gets expelled, can he get into another school?  How will it look on his records?  Did he just lose his chance getting into Columbia College, even with this being his first offense? 

The most disturbing thing about this story is not the broken nose or even the name calling.  It is the fact that this is a common occurrence in many schools across the country, especially for students who identify as LGBTQQI.  The scarier thing is that number jumps quickly when it comes to students of color.

So what is the deal with School Pushout?  Just like in the story with Javon, one of the issues that LGBTQQI youth, youth of color, and students with disabilities face is harsh disciplinary actions such as suspension, expulsion, and arrests, even for minor infractions. Unevenly applied discipline, plus a hostile school climate, all lead to students essentially being pushed out of school.

Pushback against Pushout is a campaign that works to end policies like Zero Tolerance and replace them with restorative policies that foster better school climates through investing in solutions and counseling strategies.  Without this, students face a No-Win situation.  Either they face coming to a school every day where they don’t feel safe and face ridicule and harassment or they are told “go ahead and stand up for who you are but as soon as you do, you’ll be slapped with a suspension, expulsion or be sent to juvenile detention.”

I know this personally about Javon  . . . Because Javon is my middle name.

Luckily I was able to overcome my own oppression in school and I am now an educator and expert on working with LGBTQQ African American Youth. I have worked with over 100,000 students around the country and unfortunately my experience is not unique; there is a level of urgency to this issue because it is a growing problem.

Did you know that on average, states spend $88,000 a year to incarcerate one youth, but only $10,000 to educate one?

Just ONE youth!

In Georgia, youth of color face higher discipline rates, lower graduation rates, and more days out of school compared to their white counterparts. There isn’t even data collected for LGBTQQI students, but based on research and student surveys and the stories we hear from students who reach out to us for help, we know they face similar challenges and a hostile school environment. When you take a moment to look

at preparing our students for the real world, Pushout is teaching them intolerance and doesn’t allow room to discuss differences or learn from mistakes.  This is for both sides of the fence.  For our LBGTQQI youth, youth of color and youth with disabilities, they are indirectly taught don’t be yourself!  Oh and by the way, if you do, you can pretty much kiss your education good bye.  Then for those who are the offenders, the ones doing the bullying behavior, we are teaching them “you don’t have to discuss it, if they stand up to you, just know that both of you may kiss your future good bye.”

I know this may seem extreme, however, when you have schools throughout the country where they are virtually taught in a prison environment (i.e. armed security guards, metal detectors), you have to ask yourself what type of climate are we really providing for our youth?

Also, here are two other suggestions:gsas4justice

  1. If you are a student in a GSA or LGBTQQI organization check out this guide for GSAs to participate in the Week of Action! Includes a meme template for social media and easy ways to show your support. Post on our facebook or twitter to increase local reach!
  1. If you are an alumni of GSA or any organization at your school that supports LGBTQQI students, reach out to them and ask how you can support them.  The boost from alumni will bring both awareness to the matter and introduce a community of support and resiliency.

Promote the Week of Action on Social Media!

  • Email your Senator today through Dignity in Schools federal Action Alert calling on our Senators to support school discipline reform in ESEA!
  • Each day of the week we will promote a different theme related to school pushout. Help us kick off the Week of Action with the theme for September 30th – Racial Disparities in School Discipline.
  • Check out Dignity in Schools latest videos:
  • Change your Twitter and Facebook logos to the Week of Action “Push Back Against School Pushout” icon by clicking here.
  • As the Week of Action unfolds and post your own messages using the suggested hashtags: #SchoolPushout #CounselorsNotCops #SolutionsNotSuspensions

By participating in the Week of Action you are adding your voice to the dialog and collectively sending a louder message to not only your community but to the world.  We are Pushing Back Against Pushout! We are all taking a stand to support students like Javon, and all the youth who are still being impacted by these policies.


Aric Image Resized on pic resize  For the last eight years, Speaker & Author A’ric Jackson, has impacted the lives of over 100,000 students, teachers and parents across the globe.  He is an Activist for Equal Education Opportunities for all, and is the National Expert in how to Understand, Reach and Teach African American Gay and Lesbian Youth.  His latest book Understanding, Reaching, and Teaching African American Youth In and Out of the Classroom is being released Fall 2013.  He is excited to partner with Georgia Safe Schools Coalition and Georgia Equality and looking to continue his impact of Equal Education for ALL!  Visit his website at

One Response to “Are Schools Creating Prisoners?”

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