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Youth Commission tells Teens they have Choices

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


The Toledo Youth Commission is trying to ensure teens have a full range of choices about their future—hoping they won’t make one that will put them behind bars and all other opportunities far out of reach.


The city's youth commission invited teens to attend “We Can Beat the Odds: School to Prison Pipeline,” a free event meant to encourage students to make good decisions. The event was held at Waite Brand auditorium, 1530 N. Superior St., Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. A free lunch also was provided.


“Once you start getting into trouble at school, usually it tends to follow you—and before you know it, it impacts your life: going into juvenile court, and it continues into adulthood,” said Rosalinda Contreraz, youth commission executive director. “So you want to curb that when you’re younger.”


In an era of zero-tolerance policies on anything from weapons to threats at school, idle gossip and emotional outbursts have had unintended consequences for teens and even younger kids.


“There a lot of things going in other communities where they have had a lot harsher punishments in schools,” said Ms. Contreraz. “We’ve have even heard of five-year-olds getting handcuffed. We’re lucky we haven’t had that in Lucas County.”


According to the youth commission director, Toledo Public Schools and local agencies are trying to deal with each situation on its own merits, instead of a one-size-fits-all policy, which can lead to lifelong labels as a troublemaker or students seeing themselves as without a future.


“They’re aware of that stuff and they’re doing things to make sure that doesn’t happen in our community,” said Ms. Contreraz, citing a reduction in TPS suspensions as one example. “For instance, they’re making sure students understand the code of conduct. You also have the juvenile justice system where Judge Cubbon won’t allow someone to be held in the juvenile justice center if they’re under the age of 12, unless it’s a special circumstance.”


According to a fact sheet, the school-to-prison pipeline is “an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are suspended, expelled or even arrested for minor offenses that leave visits to the principal’s office a thing of the past. Statistics reflect that these policies disproportionately target students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities.”


Advocates suggest that students who are forced out of school are usually sent right back to the origin of their angst: home environments or neighborhoods filled with negative influence, which, according to the fact sheet, leave students “hardened, confused and embittered.” Many become stigmatized, fall behind in their students, and some eventually drop out of school or commit crimes.


Ms. Contreraz credited the commission’s youth advisory board for putting together the program for their peers, inviting Heather Baker from TPS to discuss existing policies and behavioral expectations for students. Kendra Kec, the assistant administrator at the Juvenile Justice and Detention Center, also spoke, as did a Toledo police school resource officer and a TPS guidance counselor. The event even featured a panel discussion with teens that have been through the juvenile justice system who discussed their own experiences and offered advice to other students.


“They felt it was a subject that needed addressed, because of those minor infractions that really get to them,” said Ms. Contreraz. “


The event drew 120 kids, despite the city’s Holiday Parade occurring just down the road at the same time. Students attended from TPS, charter schools, and parochial schools alike.

“It’s a two-prong thing. Not only do we as adults and community policymakers have to ensure there are things in place so youths don’t fall through those cracks in the system, but students need to be made aware of what those policies are,” she said. “Saturday was about making sure they understand what those policies are so they can make informed decisions, informed choice, and also spread the word to those around them so they can keep themselves out of trouble.”


Youth advocates helping the commission represent a number of local high schools, including Bowsher, St. Francis, Emmanuel Christian, Rogers, Central Catholic, Scott, Woodward, and Whitmer. Two younger members come from Chase and Robinson elementary schools.


Ms. Contreraz stated one student sparked a long discussion by relating a story behind how he received detention for standing up and his shirt came untucked, violating a dress code. The question became whether that “student was unruly” or got caught for a minor infraction.


But she also emphasized such policies do not absolve the student of responsibility, pointing out the two-way street involved in a student’s behavior and the personal responsibility involved.


“They’re in charge of their own actions. We can’t make them abide by the rules. But they also need to know what the rules are and respect them,” she said. “They have a say in their future in how they choose to act and how it’s going to play out in their lives. It can cost them dearly.”


But the youth commission director emphasized it was a “positive conference” to relay what local leaders are doing to ensure that “students don’t fall into a trap.” Ms. Contreraz stated the youth commission’s work on the issue is far from over. She explained that future events would involve parents, who can help their kids “stay out of trouble.”


“We’re trying to help the parents and the students and the schools communicate with each other, so students aren’t getting suspended from school or detentions,” she said. “The students also need to be aware of what the school is expecting.”

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/18/14 19:21:49 -0800.




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