Denver, Colorado – Teachers at Skinder Middle School wanted to make a statement and bring attention to something they believed in – the recognition of a new social injustice that is trending called the “school-to-prison-pipeline.” What happened next was unexpected.
According to Denver Police, approximately 20 teachers locked themselves in schoolroom closets, hanging a sign outside the doors that read, “Time to shut it down – End the School-To-Prison-Pipeline.”
Sergeant J. Merina of the Denver Police told reporters, “Several teachers locked themselves in closets to protest a political issue, and while they were inside it appears that some students took advantage of that.”
School officials are estimating that approximately $300,000 in technology, science equipment, and devices have disappeared.
“We’re looking into this matter and have a dedication to the community to find out exactly what happened to the technology purchased with their tax dollars,” said James Roasberg, superintendent of Denver City Schools. “Our teachers feel very bad about what happened and I think this was a mistake of the heart and not of the mind,” he added.
The school-to-prison-pipeline is a term that education activists use to describe a theory of injustice where schools push disadvantaged youth out of the education system and into the criminal justice system by utilizing police to handle disciplinary issues and by implementing zero-tolerance policies.
Local activist and member of ACLU Colorado, Larry Elderman said, “This is an unfortunate incident for us all. The Denver school system has worked cooperatively with us on the issue of unfair disciplinary issues for students for a long time now and I don’t think our progress will be stalled by this incident. Missing iPads, laptops, SMART Boards, integrity – whatever – it doesn’t negate the fact that minorities and LGBT youth are unfairly targeted by teachers daily in classrooms across America. Did you know that black students who are under five feet tall with a lisp are 1.36 times more likely to be sent to the principal’s office than their taller, white peers? Statistics like that have no place in the 21st century.”
Superintendent Roasberg said that the incident will ultimately draw students and staff closer together and that he doesn’t want charges pressed against the students.
“We’re going to make an example for the nation that students don’t benefit from being arrested, even when they break the law.” He goes on to offer other solutions, “We want the police to identify the students who took the technology so that we can discuss this with the children. We want round table discussions to understand them. We want to use preventative discipline so that incidents like this don’t happen again the next time teachers want to make an important political statement like this.”
Local ACLU officials have stated that they are willing to appoint volunteers in the school to monitor the students while teachers lock themselves in closets to bring attention to important social justice issues in the future. It was emphasized that by monitoring, they meant a “passive observation,” so as not to make the students feel like criminals. For example, “passive observation” may include strategies like hiding in cardboard boxes with holes cut out for their eyes.
“In the end, it’s beautiful and ironic when you think about it – teachers locking themselves into closets so that students can come out of them without being punished. It’s poetic,” said Elderman.