Schools are supposed to be places of learning and development. Many schools have become war zones instead.

The USA is well known for its gun related and school violence. In January of this year alone, there were 8 school shootings! The deadliest school massacre in history at Sandy Hook elementary school was heartbreaking.

If this hasn’t been a sufficient wake-up call, I don’t know what else it would take. So how do we effectively reduce school violence and create safe learning environments?

I am concerned about calls and legislative proposals for increased police presence, armed guards, metal detectors and zero tolerance policies. This is not a direction that will take us to safe schools. Declaring war doesn’t end war. It escalates the violence and leads to all kinds of problematic ripple effects.

Minorities know this all too well. Youth of colour and their allies are mobilizing across the USA. They held a rally this week at the U.S. Capitol and marched to the White House to call on Congress and the Obama administration to reject policies that criminalize students. They demand youth of color be included in the conversation on violence prevention and school safety.

A coalition of organizations led by youth of color released a national statement and launched
You Can’t Build Peace with a Piece.

This national youth-led campaign brings awareness to the impact of school policies on minority youth and calls for positive responses to gun violence. They urge government to focus on proven measures like Restorative Justice, Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), social and emotional learning, and the hiring and training of counselors, social workers and community intervention workers.

They know what they are talking about:

“As youth growing up on some of America’s deadliest streets, we are all too familiar with gun violence and its impacts. Too many of us have been shot and shot at. We have buried our friends and our family members. Nearly all of us have been to more funerals than graduations. No one wants the violence to stop more than we do.

But, we have also seen how attempts to build public safety with security systems, armed police and prisons have failed. We want college prep, not prison prep.”

What has been the result of decades of a war on drugs, war on crime, zero tolerance policies and massive spending on prisons while simultaneously cutting school budgets?

students now experience a vicious school-to-jail track… We have been handcuffed and humiliated in front of other students and staff for ‘offenses’ as small as being late to school; detained in police interrogation rooms at our school; expelled from school for carrying nail clippers, markers or baseball caps; and arrested – even in elementary schools – for fights that used to be solved in the principal’s office. With our backpacks searched and our lockers and cars tossed, at the end of a billy club or the butt of a gun, knees down-hands up, or face down on cold concrete or burning asphalt – we have experienced the true face of ‘public safety’. These policies haven’t protected us, helped us to graduate or taught us anything about preventing violence. They have taught us to fear a badge, to hate school and to give up on our education. We understand too well that guns in anyone’s hands are not the solution.”

I commend the youth’s courage to speak out and to focus on positive oriented solutions. Their 11 recommendations are substantiated with great data and additional support. It is sad that we even have to ask not to militarize schools.

I invite you to read their statement and their facebook page. Check out participating organizations, including Dignity in Schools Campaign, Alliance for Educational Justice, Youth Justice Coalition and Advancement Project.

There’s also an upcoming webinar: “Stemming the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Applying Restorative Justice Principles to School Discipline Practices”, Wed March 20, 2013.

Time to get educated and to change things.