Current Events, Race

The school-to-prison pipeline in the virtual classroom

With the proliferation of virtual, online education, one would think that we would see a disruption in the school-to-prison pipeline. Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in virtual classrooms just as it is in the traditional, geophysical schoolhouse. 

The past month, I have read at least two different stories about Black boys having police officers dispatched to their homes simply for existing as young boys (read stories here and here). In both cases, the boys were under 13 years old. In both cases, teachers spotted a toy gun as the child was participating in virtual classes. In both cases, neither child brandished the weapon nor gave any indication that it was anything other than a toy. In both cases, the police were dispatched to the child’s home. In both cases, the boys were shocked and afraid when the police appeared at their homes. 

I want to point out a two major issues that see with these incidents. These aren’t all of the issues, but rather things that I think are worth pointing out. 

The first issue stems from how schools are imposing their rules into peoples homes. I understand that there have to be some rules for a virtual classroom. What I am wary of, however, is some schools/teachers’ need to try to translate their sense of classroom decorum into a home setting. Some of the rules that I have heard (and seen in my own child’s virtual classroom) do way too much. 

Children should be able to dress however is comfortable as long as it is not showing private parts. They should be able to wrap up in a blanket or slouch if it is comfortable for them. They should be able to eat. They should not be required to keep their camera on the whole time. And yes, children should be able to exist among their toys as long as those toys are not contributing to a high level of distraction. 

In both of the cases, the boys were not playing with the BB guns. One child moved the gun from one side of where he was sitting to the other (and if you know anything about middle school boys, you know that they can be squirrelly like that). One boy picked up the gun after his brother tripped over it.

In at least one of the cases, the gun was OBVIOUSLY a toy and not a real weapon. If the teacher was concerned in either of those cases, they could have made a call to the parents before involving the authorities. But these teachers felt that they were adhering to their schools’ weapons policy by calling the cops instead of remembering that they are looking into somebody’s home.

The second issue is that these children’s grown-ups were completely eliminated from the equation. As I mentioned above, the teachers’ first impulse was to contact the authorities rather than contact the child’s grown-ups. These children did not pose harm to the teacher nor any of the students. 

Certainly, if there was fear of the child harming himself, the teacher could have spoken with the student after class. There are a half dozen ways that the teachers could have handled this without involving the cops. 

It was almost as if the teachers never considered that the children’s grown-ups might have been able to intervene or bring clarity to the situation. Yes, it would have been a tragedy if the child did have a real gun and injured or killed himself in the virtual classroom. I need to know how on earth the police were supposed to make either of these situations better.  It was almost as if the teachers did not consider what might happen to the child if the cops “feared” for their lives. Its almost as if they had never heard of Tamir Rice.

I have thought of these little boys frequently since I first read their stories. I wonder if they are still attending that same school with the same teacher that called the police on them. I wonder if they feel scared when they hear a knock on the door during the school day. I wonder if they sit in their virtual classrooms afraid to move, afraid to even reach for a glass of water.

I am all for virtual education. I earned my Masters Degree online and think that it is a workable solution for people who aren’t comfortable potentially putting their kids at risk during a pandemic. However, I am not okay with children experiencing the same racism that they experience at school being brought into their homes.

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