The first two years of high school were a breeze for Ibrahim Adetona. But he started to struggle during his junior year, and he was eventually suspended from school for 10 days. After that, his struggles got worse.
“I went from president of the [student] council, to not going to school on time," Adetona said. "I went from honor roll to needing a tutor. I went from perfect attendance to, ‘Where’s Ibrahim?’”
Speaking in Hartford at a forum held by the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, Adetona joined two other students and policy-makers from Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts to discuss how to break the school-to-prison pipeline. The forum was recorded by CTN and can be watched here.
At one point, Adetona was arrested at Harding High School in Bridgeport for having an argument with his girlfriend. He spent two weeks in jail. What would have helped him get back on track after falling behind?
“I think help would have helped," he said, which drew applause from the crowd.
He’s one of over thousands of students who end up in the juvenile justice system each year, a number that’s increased by a couple hundred kids since the state began tracking student arrests in 2011.
One of the problems is that Hispanic and African American students are arrested far more often than white kids.
A number of state laws were passed this year to deal with school-based arrests, such as increased funding for the school-based diversion initiative, or SBDI.
But finding a way to deal with racial bias should be a top priority, says William Howe, a retired civil rights compliance officer in Connecticut.
"I have known many administrators and educators who have biases and poor attitudes towards students of color," Howe said. "However, some of the most compassionate, professional, caring and dedicated people that I have worked with over the years, are school administrators, faculty, and staff who are simply overwhelmed and under-resourced."
Howe added that zero-tolerance policies are a large part of the problem and that understanding bad behavior is more important than simply punishing a kid for being bad.