Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Grace Under Pressure


Good morning, Columbia/HoCo.

So much hangs in the balance this morning. Votes must be counted. The fight for each of those votes to have meaning continues. We may very well be exhausted. 

This is the story you need today. I’ve been saving this for just the right moment.

Out of Jail and Back in School, Grace Finds Her Voice, Jodi S. Cohen, ProPublica

Grace made an appearance once before on this blog, as an inspiration to a Guest Post by former Board of Education candidate James Cecil. 

Grace is a child like so many of our own or those that we know.  She struggled with the transition to distance education.  She was deprived of the support services known to help her through her challenges.  She missed one of the requirements for school.  She has been incarcerated for over two months.  

He was moved to write by the original story from ProPublica:

A Teenager Didn’t Do Her Online Schoolwork. So A Judge Sent Her To Jail, Jodi S. Cohen

Grace’s story shocks us (I hope) because it is such a vivid example of criminalizing student behavior.  Most of us remember not doing our homework now and then. I’m pretty sure none of us went to jail for it. But Grace is a Black teenager with learning issues and mental health challenges. She did not receive the benefit of the doubt. 

When you hear people talk about the school to prison pipeline, this is it. Some students get the benefit of the doubt; some go to jail for the same behavior.  It doesn’t help the students improve in any way and it doesn’t make schools safer.

The second ProPublica articles catches us up with where Grace is now. She’s no longer incarcerated. She’s grateful to the outcry that brought attention to her case. She is going to a new school, doing well, and she is on a mission.

She feels an urgency to use her experience to bring awareness about shortcomings in the juvenile justice system and the criminalization of Black girls in particular.

Cohen, writer of these two pieces, has done an excellent job of giving the reader the kind of personal information that helps us see the humanity of her subject. Grace is an American teenager: someone who struggles, sometimes triumphs, sometimes fails. She should be more than a statistic on a discipline report. We should want her to be known and respected as much as we want our own children to be known and respected.

As we examine the issue of having police in schools here in Howard County, Grace’s story is weighing heavily on me. Even here in “multi-cultural/diverse” Howard County we are arresting students rather than connecting them with the help they need. As many as one per school day. And they are predominantly Black and Brown students. Many have learning issues or are in special needs programs, or have mental health challenges.

They do not receive the benefit of the doubt.

We absolutely can do better in Howard County. We need to stop criminalizing the behavior of young people, and we need to stop viewing our Black and Brown students through that narrow and harmful lens.

“There are so many other Graces out there who need a voice, and they need to be heard,” Grace said. “They are screaming, they’re yelling, they’re asking for help.”

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