Bennet Convenes Educators and Experts to Tackle School-to-Prison Pipeline

Drawing on Community Discussions, Bennet Announces He’ll Take Action Next Year to Keep More Young People in School and Out of the Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems

Washington, D.C. - Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet held the last of five discussions with educators, students, nonprofit and community leaders, and elected officials to explore ways to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in Colorado and across the country and advance equity in education. In concluding the months-long series, he announced he will draw on these Colorado-driven, collaborative discussions to inform legislation he plans to introduce next year.

The school-to-prison pipeline funnels students—especially those who already face barriers to education, such as students of color and students with disabilities—out of schools and toward the juvenile and criminal justice systems, denying them an education and limiting their future employment opportunities. 

“Ending the school-to-prison pipeline will take the work of school boards and superintendents, mayors, prosecutors, police chiefs, and elected leaders at every level. I convened this diverse group for an honest conversation about the urgency of tackling the systemic racism and injustice that drives too many of our kids out of classrooms and into the criminal justice system,” said Bennet. “We cannot rest until equal means equal for every American child, and I look forward to working closely with this group to carry their excellent work to Congress.”

“I'm glad Senator Bennet is addressing the School to Prison pipeline issue because it has negatively impacted Black and Brown communities. Let's open up doors of opportunity for our youth and close all gateways to prison! I am glad to be a part of this effort and looking forward to Colorado being a model on how to eradicate the School to Prison Pipeline.” - Omar Montgomery, President, Aurora Branch of NAACP 

“This convening was essential to me because the needle needs to move on this issue. As a male educator of color, I witness the life-altering impact of disproportionate punishment -- such as suspensions, expulsions, and referrals -- on students of color, especially young men and boys of color. The occurrences not only impact their educational outcomes, but they also bleed over into their everyday lives affecting employment, social status, their relationship with law enforcement, and their identity. To have Senator Bennet see this issue as vital to him encourages me. Hopefully, we can inspire others to join the fight to move the needle on this stubborn issue.” -- Dedrick Sims, CEO of Sims-Fayola Foundation

“In the middle of a pandemic that has turned everyone's worlds upside down, it is important to be part of work that is striving to positively affect the lives of so many students that were negatively affected before COVID and will continue to be left behind after COVID if we do not seek the change that is needed.” - Sean Woytek, Head of School, Animas High School

“It is no secret that the problems people of color face in America are often overlooked. But, it came as a shock to me that many people in my small, rural, majority-white town denied the fact that racism existed in this place at all. That is why it means so much to me to be a part of this. Not only are my family members and myself affected by these racist systems, but if the people around me refuse to believe that any of it is even happening, it makes it incredibly hard to try and change the way things are. Hopefully by adding in my experiences and thoughts to this discussion, I can help educate those around me and change racist and harmful systems such as the school to prison pipeline. It means a lot to me that Senator Bennet and his team put together such a diverse group of people to provide their experiences and expertise so we can be certain that proper change occurs.” - Carlee Allen, Student at Fruita Monument High School Member of Grand Valley Students United 

“Senator Bennet continues to lead with visionary ideas; dismantling the school to prison pipeline by implementing restorative justice practices with comprehensive training and wrap-around services will change the culture of schools, reduce dropouts and help graduates to become active participants in their communities.” - Colorado State Senator Pete Lee

"We heard a number of great ideas that people have to help prevent and address the school-to-prison pipeline. I thank Senator Bennet for convening this discussion and appreciate his leadership on this issue at the federal level. It is our shared hope that other states will be able to learn from the important work we are leading to address the school to prison pipeline here in Colorado.” - Colorado Governor Jared Polis

“I’m grateful for Senator Bennet’s leadership on addressing the school to prison pipeline at the federal level. In working with Senator Bennet, Governor Polis, and community leaders like the ones we heard from today, I’m confident we can create innovative and impactful solutions to enable our schools and communities to best support all students--particularly those who have been disproportionately disciplined or placed in the criminal justice system--to achieve their goals and succeed.” - Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser

A 2016 study showed that Black and Native American students in Colorado were three times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than white students, and Latino students were one-and-half times more likely. Exclusionary discipline practices are harmful for the educational attainment of students and put them at a significantly higher risk of dropping out or becoming involved with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. 

Since October, Bennet has convened over 20 educators, students, nonprofit and community leaders, and local elected officials for a series of roundtable discussions focused on how to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Throughout the roundtable series, participants explored the origins of racial discrimination, criminalization, and the school-to-prison pipeline as it developed in Colorado and across the country. 

The group discussed promising practices for dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, concluding the roundtable series by recommending action in six categories: mental health; responses to student behavior; educator support and training; school resource officers; funding; and solutions beyond schools. Bennet will use the proposal to inform legislative action he takes in the 117th Congress to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

Since his time as Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, Bennet has worked to address the school-to-prison pipeline - working toward putting an end to “zero-tolerance” policies at the request of community leaders and students and establishing a restorative practices pilot program. Recently, he requested that the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees include his amendment to direct the Comptroller General to conduct a study on the school-to-prison pipeline in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.