Flint, MI— High schoolers at Flint Community Schools have been asked to participate in focus groups that will be used in a study aimed at ending the school-to-prison-pipeline. 

The study, called the African American Student Voice Project, is being conducted through the Michigan State University Office of K-12 Outreach through a $125,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Education.  

“One of the foundational tenets of this grant is to work towards disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline,” Director for MSU’s K-12 Outreach Bryan Beverly said.  “We engage a number of stakeholders that support African American students, including African American students themselves … (to) gain a broader perspective on what the teaching and learning experiences are for African American students

Participants will be asked a series of questions about their experiences, like what it means to be part of Flint Schools, what they like and don’t like about the district, and how they perceive their experience to be different from other communities, Beverly said. 

Students will also engage in “what if” scenarios, such as imagining what they would do in certain situations if they were a school principal. 

The hope is that the responses create a deeper understanding about which experiences for Black students lead to success and which lead to less desirable outcomes, Beverly said. 

MSU is also collecting data from focus groups at American International Academy in Inkster as well as Lansing Public Schools. 

“We plan to do two different levels of analysis. The first level will be what we use to inform the professional development in districts. … The second level of analysis will be a more globalized, across the three districts report,” Beverly said. 

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a set of disciplinary policies in school districts that push children out of school into the criminal justice system. Those most at-risk include minorities and students with disabilities, especially those who live in underserved communities. 

Police presence in schools is also a contributing factor. In 1958, Flint was the first school district to implement a police-liaison program. However, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, there is no evidence to suggest a police presence creates positive outcomes for students. 

Police in schools with predominately Black students are more likely to “focus on maintaining school discipline” compared to those in predominately White schools, according to the ACLU. 

Research also shows that Black students are three times more likely to be arrested than White students. 

Since the water crisis, Flint Schools has seen an increase in special needs students and behavioral issues. Without the funding and resources, the district’s severe disciplinary measures have come under scrutiny. 

In 2015, an eight-year-old male special education student was placed into handcuffs for kicking a cart during an afterschool program. In another incident, a seven-year-old student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder received no intervention or services until he was kicked out of school more than 50 times, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Students need opportunity to share experiences like these, Beverly said. 
“Students like to feel heard. The idea is to leverage that affinity towards being heard to better inform professional practices,” he said. 

MSU hopes to begin the focus groups in the next week. Flint school officials did not comment by press time. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...