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As part of its Young Scholars for Justice Project, in 2004, PODER, People Organized in the Defense of Earth and her Resources, has been organizing around zero tolerance policies in East Austin, Texas.  PODER uses the history of Austin to politically educate its youth – ensuring that the youth understand how entrenched issues of race are in their city and how important it is to fight for change.

In summer 2004, however, youth started focusing on school discipline issues – concerned that the zero tolerance policy in Texas was pushing students into the juvenile justice system. They hosted student forums, and student and parent focus groups, trying to learn about their experiences and potential alternatives to propose. They also used a “zero tolerance Jeopardy game,” a fun interactive way to engage fellow youth on the issue.  While the categories change each year, generally the game includes information on the history of zero tolerance in Texas and Austin, current alternatives to zero tolerance, and real cases dealing with zero tolerance. Ultimately, after organizing their peers and gathering their suggestions, students pushed for a variety of recommendations. For example, they requested that the district put the following alternatives in place:

• Peer mediation;
• Oversight committees of parents, teachers, students, and community members to monitor the school discipline process;
• Elimination of in-school suspension or strong improvement of it so students are supervised by certified teachers who provide them with substantive, meaningful work; and
• Attention to, and tracking of, students’ academics while on suspension.

This summer, students are returning to the school-side of the pipeline and focusing more locally.  In June 2009, about 20 PODER youth will visit recreation centers in the city to administer youth-designed surveys to fellow youth. Their goal will be to reinvigorate the work of years past, and try and track the school to prison pipeline in action. Questions will focus on:

• Students’ experiences with in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions;
• The impact of these policies on students’ academic work; and
• Student contact with the court system.

PODER youth will then analyze the data and propose alternative recommendations that address student concerns and keep students in school. Thus far, youth surveyed over 100 of their peers and 8 of them testifed at the School Board this summer on their personal experiences, alternatives to zero tolerance, and results from the surveys.  As a result, the youth will be meeting with school district personal and legal staff to advise them personally and discuss the alternatives and reccommendations in late July.

2005 Zero Tolerance Fact Sheet

2005 Zero olerance Brochure

2004 Zero Tolerance Report

Zero Tolerance Data Charts
FAQ Juvenile Justice

For more information, contact:
Erika Gonzalez
PODER: People Organized in the Defense of Earth and her Resources
T: 512-472-9921
[email protected]