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Black Boys Prime Targets for School-to-Prison Pipeline

Dorothy Rowley | 3/13/2013, 9 a.m.

Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry said however, that there's also the need for additional programs like Spingarn STAY and Ballou STAY "that really work," reducing truancy and dropout rates.

"When it comes to our black boys, truancy is a very serious, cultural and historical problem," said Barry, 76. "A lot of them are truant because their fathers were truant."

Barry said he often sees young black males "hanging out" during classroom hours and urges them to go to school.

"Some of them have given up hope . . . but the bottom line is that there are no real consequences if these kids don't show up for school," Barry said. "City officials, including the chancellor, are just not that serious about combatting truancy."

During a Feb. 23 forum at Anne Beers Elementary School in the Hillcrest community in Southeast, Judge Zoe Bush, who presides over family matters at the D.C. Superior Court in Northwest, said truancy is a "complicated social problem." However, eradicating truancy takes a collaborative effort, she said.

"Truancy is connected to collaborative services, and then you can improve that child's attendance. But, you can't wait to cure poverty in order to cure truancy," said Bush, 58.

She stressed that a majority of young black incarcerated males read on a 4th-grade level, and that if the issue of truancy isn't taken more seriously, "society will pay the cost."

Meanwhile, a coordinator for the community advocacy group, Black is Back, said truancy is a symptom of what's wrong with the educational system.

Freedom Koofshaw said that the 15 school closings mandated in January by Henderson, serves as a prime example of how easy it is to manipulate impoverished pockets in various communities, where most of the closings are slated to take place by the end of 2013.

"Attacking the school system is one way of opening the pipeline that leads our boys to prison," said Koofshaw, 41. "The other is the dollar signs that large corporations see whenever there's a charter school takeover . . . This combination of charter schools that are for profit, and the prison system which is for profit, is a dangerous mix that is a direct attack on our little black boys."

Koofshaw added that even if the young men return to school, there are no "real" programs to get them back on track and to keep them there.

"That's why they put resource officers in the schools who have arresting powers - because that's a sure way of getting our young boys on the road to prison."