The Journal of Educational Controversy – Authors Talk – 2013

like to welcome our viewers to our program on a
series of conversations that we’re going to be having
with the authors of articles that were published in
the Journal of Educational Controversy. The journal is published at the
Woodring College of Education here at Western
Washington University in the state of Washington. My name is Lorraine
Kasprisin and I’m the editor of the
journal, and delighted to welcome all of
our viewers today. One of the goals
of the journal is to engage in a more authentic
conversation about education and to encourage a
deeper discussion with the general public and its
legislators along with parents and teachers and policymakers
and other professionals about the fundamental questions
dealing with public schools, the role of public schools
in a democratic society, especially a society that is
becoming increasingly diverse, increasingly pluralistic. We want to be able
to examine some of the tensions,
the contradictions, the controversies,
the dilemmas that arise in a democratic
society, and the role of the public in it. Viewers can read the actual
articles by the authors by going to a web page of
the Journal of Educational Controversy. The issue of the journal that
we are going to be discussing focuses on a very important
issue in this state and across the nation. It has been referred to as
the school-to-prison pipeline, And it refers to a national
trend in which students are increasingly being pushed
out of the public schools and into the juvenile
justice system. It is also a problem that
has disproportionately affected students
of color, students with disabilities, poor
students, and also students from other disenfranchised
communities. And so it raises for us
some very serious questions about this nation’s
commitment to its youth, to their education,
and to social justice and equal treatment. Today, our guest is former
justice Bobbe Bridge, who wrote an article for our
issue on the school-to-prison pipeline that’s entitled
“No Single Source – No Single Solution Why We
Should Broaden Our Perspective of the School to Prison
Pipeline and Look to the Court in Redirecting Youth From It.” It was also coauthored by Leila
Curtis and Nicholas Oakley. Justice Bridge served on
the Washington Supreme Court from 1999 to 2007. Prior to her tenure
on the Supreme Court she served for 10 years as
a King County Superior Court judge, where she was
also Chief Juvenile Court Judge for three years. Since leaving the
Court, Justice Bridge has formed a youth
advocacy group called the Center for Children
and Youth Justice, and we hope to also
talk a little bit today about her new center. With me today are
my co-interviewers, Professor Daniel
Larner is a professor of theater at the Fairhaven
College of Interdisciplinary Studies here at Western
Washington University, where he served as dean for
several years in the 1980s. Dan has also been a long
time member of the ACLU Board of Directors
of Washington State, and he is the co-editor
for this issue of the school-to-prison
pipeline. And Dan will bring a set of
legal concerns and questions to the topic. Our second interviewer is
Professor John Richardson, who is Professor Emeritus at
Western Washington University, and his area of
expertise is the field of sociology of education. So John brings a
sociological set of concerns to the topic of the
school-to-prison pipeline. John is also the
associate editor for the Journal of
Educational Controversy. And so I’d like to welcome all
of you to our program today. Justice Bridge, I
thought we might start by helping our
viewers to understand a little bit about
what it is we’re going to be talking about. What is the
school-to-prison pipeline? What does it mean? BOBBE BRIDGE: It
is a phenomenon, and an unfortunately
increasing phenomenon, of young people being pushed
out of public schools. And once they are pushed
out from public schools for a variety of
reasons which we’ll get into as we go on with this
discussion, I would assume, we know that they become
increasingly at risk for not only poor
economic outcomes, which have been obviously
very well-stated in a lot of journals,
a lot of newspaper. For example, what
it costs someone who doesn’t get a high school
diploma over the course of his or her lifetime. What it costs the community
by way of reduced earnings, and reduce ability to pay taxes,
contributions to the community. But what we’re talking about
here is the way in which, by being pushed out of school,
these young people become increasingly at risk
for criminal behavior, and getting themselves engaged
in the juvenile justice system, and ultimately into the
adult justice system. And there have been
many pieces of research over the course of the
past decade for sure, but probably over the last 20
years, which indicate to us that in fact those
results are what occurs when someone is
pushed out of school, ultimately does not
receive a diploma. LORRAINE KASPRISIN: I
noticed that in your paper, even though you
mentioned that there are many factors contributing to
the school-to-prison pipeline, the one that you have
chosen to focus on is the issue of truancy
and excessive absenteeism from school. Why did you focus on
that topic in your paper, and how does truancy
contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline? BOBBE BRIDGE:
Well, fundamentally because I believe that
the discussion to date has really been focused on,
not necessarily the wrong end, it’s an important part of the
numerous conflicting issues that make up the components of
the school-to-prison pipeline. But it really is that part of
the pipeline where many warning signs have already been
ignored, and a child is a lot further
into that pipeline when we start focusing
on the issues of concern that we usually talk about in
the school-to-prison pipeline than we could be if we started
to concentrate on truancy. And here’s what I mean by that. In our focus on school-to-prison
pipeline in the recent past, in the past two or
three years, we’ve really focused on issues
of school discipline, zero tolerance policies which
lead to school discipline and ultimately
suspension and expulsion from school, we’ve also focused
on the increased, again, because of Columbine phenomenon,
for example, concerns for school safety, the
increasing use of law enforcement personnel
in school buildings, creating, one would argue, and
actually can be demonstrated in research, an increased
opportunity for what would ordinarily be minor
disputes or conflicts that might arise in a school setting,
not to be resolved by the vice principal or the principal, or
school personnel in general, but an immediate response
to call the police and define it therefore as
an issue for public safety as opposed to something
that could be resolved in the normal
setting of school. Criminalization conduct that
wasn’t criminalized before. That has been a focus,
and it is absolutely important and imperative
that we do that, particularly because it leads
to increasing what we already know in our criminal justice
and juvenile justice systems are huge disproportionalities
from the standpoint of kids of color, kids who have been
involved in the foster care system, and the like. However, that’s an
intervention orientation that, while I certainly applaud
raising our level of concern about, when we take a look a
little deeper, what we know is that the same
kinds of warning signs about
disengagement in school, and that’s really what
we’re talking about, pushing kids out of
school, subjecting them to out-of-school
suspensions, for example, begins a phenomenon
of disengagement from the educational
process in the young person even before they begin
to, or if they do, fall prey to the engagement in
the juvenile justice system. So, for a while, there is an
opportunity to call that back. To try to reengage the
young person in school. And you can do that before
expulsions and suspensions have operated. You can do it by looking at
a couple of warning signs. The warning signs being failure
in school in some core courses, but most appropriately for
this discussion, absenteeism. Kids are voting with
their feet, as it were, if they’re
not understanding, they have issues
in their family, there are community issues
that combine and cause them not to want to go to school. All of these various factors
that are coming into play really result in absenteeism. And that’s our
earliest and best, I would argue, warning sign. And that’s when we really
need to pay attention, not after the kid is
further along into this what we know now is a pipeline. LORRAINE KASPRISIN: I
know that in your paper you talk about how the court can
become a leader in this field and about different kinds of
reforms that you recommend. I thought before we talk a
little bit about the reforms, yesterday I asked
some parents, what do you know about the truancy
policy in your school? And most parents know
nothing about it. They once said to me, well it
was probably in some packet that I received in the
beginning of the year, but I don’t know
very much about it. Perhaps it might be
helpful for our viewers if you could just talk a little
bit about the Washington state truancy laws and statutes,
and what are they? What are the procedures? BOBBE BRIDGE: Well,
Washington state has one of the more
prescriptive statutes relating to failure to attend school. It’s an old statute, but
it’s the prescriptive part, and the processes
that we live under now are from the 1995 statute which
bore the name of a young woman called Rebecca Hedman. The so-called Becca Law. And the Becca Laws incorporate
not just truancy, but also at-risk youth, some proceedings
for at-risk youth in general. Kids who are running
away from home, kids who are having serious
difficulties in their homes, there’s an opportunity
for parents to bring various
petitions to the court in order to seek some court
involvement in resolving the issues in the family
when all else has failed. And there are certain screenings
that all else must have been showed to have failed. But in truancy, another area,
because we knew at-risk youth demonstrate the fact
that they are on track to become more
seriously involved in negative outcomes
for themselves if they stop coming to school. We know, for example,
that research has shown that if kids
stop coming to school, they are at much
higher rates of risk not only of criminal
engagement in criminal conduct, but also of substance
abuse, suffering from undetected mental health
issues, somatic complaints, which also go undetected, all
because they’re essentially disengaging themselves
from their major community as young people, which
is the school system. So that, and a lot
of other factors, inspired the legislature
to pass the Becca Law, and to say that we were going
to pay attention to kids who were not coming to school. And the stage was
set, the threshold was set at looking at
children who have, even from their
very first absence, there is a requirement
on the part of the school to contact the parent and
find out, inquire what was the reason for the absence. Within two absences,
the school is required to engage the
parents in a conference, again, as to how the school
can be helpful to bring the child back to school. Then, if there are five absences
within a month or more than 10 within the school year,
the school is obligated, if the other engagements have
not resolved the absenteeism, the school is required
to file a petition. That petition is a
petition in court, and the petition seeks
the court’s assistance, and, first of all,
declaring that this child is subject to the Becca Law,
that they are, by definition, truant, because the
requisite number of absences have occurred, and
look to an order from the court to
return to school, and an order to
the school to say, here’s what kinds of solutions
need to be looked at in order to reengage this
child into school. The problem with
that, of course, is that it immediately
gets the court involved in an adversarial position. The school district versus
the parent and the child. The child is it is
always named as a party. The parent need not be. The practice for most districts
in the state of Washington do in fact, also
name the parent, but also the practice is that
in most courts around the state the parent is rarely
engaged as a party, at least in the formal court process,
which is unfortunate. And courts began to see
that this was not the way that we were going to get kids
most effectively reengaged in school. The statute has been
amended a couple of times in order to provide
more leeway to courts to withhold, the
legal term is stay, but to withhold any further
court involvement pending the opportunity for the
school and the parents and the community– whatever community
resources may be brought to bear to
come to come together to try to resolve the issues
themselves without getting into this formal process. The statute also,
some years ago, added specifically a
way to divert, again, that’s a legal
terminology meaning to divert the child from
the formal court process. This diversion would be
a community truancy board that is specifically
called out as one of the ways in which
the court can give the school and the
child and the family an opportunity to resolve the
issue again without getting in the a formal process. It’s always been the
intent of the statute that the court was to be
the place of last resort. Now we know by research
and outcome data that that is as it should
be, because the court process itself is the least
effective, and, arguably, the most likely to result
in more negative outcomes for the child than any
of the other options that we try to explore. What I’m trying to
do in this paper, and what we have been
doing through the Models for Change Initiative in
the state of Washington, is to demonstrate that there
are, in fact, other ways in which the court can assist in
providing accountability of all the parties to ensure that
the absenteeism is resolved and the child once again
goes back to school, but can do it in a way which
is in a problem-solving mode, in a leadership and
collaborative mode, as opposed to the more traditional
process of the court holding a hearing in an
adversarial environment. LORRAINE KASPRISIN: I just
had one question, though, about the formal process,
before we go into the reforms that you’re recommending. You argue that the
courts can become a place to resolve these issues and
can take a leadership role. There was a case that came down
by the Washington State Supreme Court. I think it was just last year. It was after, of course,
you left the court. It was Bellevue School
District versus E.S. And the ACLU and
other groups were very concerned about the fact
that young children, really, who go before the truancy court
during the initial fact-finding hearing, they have
no representation, they have no right to
legal representation, and yet, at that
initial hearing, they are asked to
agree to things which have consequences for them. And they may not
understand the proceedings, they may be intimidated
by the proceedings, and yet they’re told
that they have a right to present their evidence
to bring witnesses, to question the
school representative and question their evidence. And yet, all of this without
legal representation. Once, of course, that they
enter into an agreement, then they can be held
in contempt of court, and face even juvenile
detention as sanction. And yet, even though
the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the
student, the Supreme Court overturned it. And I have a quote here. They said, the issues
that are before the court at an initial hearing
on a truancy petition are uncomplicated
and straightforward. I don’t think they’re
that uncomplicated and straightforward for the child
who is there alone trying to defend himself or herself. I was wondering, what is your
take about that decision that came down last year? BOBBE BRIDGE: Well,
I certainly wouldn’t want to argue with
my former colleagues, but it was based upon, I
think, a long line of cases. First of all, a long line
of cases relating to when the right to counsel attaches. In this particular process,
unlike a lot of other states, I might add, the
process for truancy here in the state of
Washington is a civil matter. It’s not a criminal matter. And so that would be the first
rationale for saying there is no absolute right to counsel
in a civil proceeding, and there isn’t. And so there’s a
long line of cases. And once you get
into that analogy, that’s the road you can go down. The court did talk
about the question of what was being decided
in that preliminary hearing. It does vary from
jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but for the most part that
preliminary hearing is to only resolve one issue,
and that is whether or not the child’s absences have
met the statutory threshold. This is why the
court referred to it as a relatively
simple determination, factual determination. And, in most jurisdictions
in this state as well, the school district is not
represented by a lawyer either. It is a school
district representative who is the truancy
liaison, at least that’s the practice
in King County. In other portions
of the state it’s an actual school
administrative official, as opposed to someone who is
actually doing truancy solely, specializing in truancy. And the order that results
is no more complicated. And I use the terms
advisedly then to say you must
go back to school. And if you don’t
go back to school, then you are
subject to contempt. And at the time of the
contempt proceeding, the child is
entitled to a lawyer. Because at that point, there
are options for the court to, as you indicated, perhaps
be sanctioned to detention. Although that is used
fairly infrequently in the state of Washington. I would argue not enough,
but certainly infrequently. And there are other things that
might be ordered, including engagement in services at
the time of the contempt proceeding. But it is at that point
when, as the court saw it, it begins to look, since
there is a penalty involved, which can be
incarceration, that that is when the right to
counsel, even though this is a civil proceeding,
would kick in. LORRAINE KASPRISIN:
Do you agree with it? BOBBE BRIDGE: I don’t
think the detention should be used for truant students. I think that we have so
many other alternatives now which are available. I think that what we’re
really trying to do is to avoid a court
hearing at all, which is what a lot of these
various counties, court jurisdictions in
the state of Washington, have been experimenting with
over the past, once they began their initial research and
determine where their baseline demographics were and
processes were, to now. Probably, they’ve been
involved for about three years, and we have good evaluations
coming out of the work that they’ve done in order to
avoid having the children even at an initial hearing. So I think that’s really
where the emphasis needs to be placed. Do I agree or disagree that
they should be entitled to counsel at the beginning? I don’t know. I think that if we do if we do
keep it to as I described it which most jurisdictions
do, where it really is almost a rudimentary decision
as to the attendance record and here is the school
district representative. Probably the right to counsel
does not need to attach. Would it be better
if they have lawyers? And they do serve in some
counties in this state. Probably, but the reason why it
would be better, in my opinion, is that it’s more likely to
resolve itself at that stage by having the lawyer act as a
mediator instead of the judge being placed in a
mediator role at the time of a formal hearing. So that in the
proverbial hallway outside the courtroom the school
and the parents and the child are coming together to
alleviate the absenteeism. By definition, remember,
the petition filing itself, and the having of a hearing as a
result of that petition filing, is only happening
because the school has been unable either
to locate the parent or to find out what’s
really happening with the parent
and the child that has resulted in an absenteeism. LORRAINE KASPRISIN: I’d like
to turn to my co-interviewers now, and have them engage
in our conversation. Dan, do you want to
raise any issues? DANIEL LARNER: I was interested
in the part of your article, Justice Bridge, which
talks about the stages that the court can use to
help alleviate the situation. One is, and you can
help me understand exactly where in the process
these are keyed in, because I’m not sure I remember
too accurately, but the first stage has to do
with an information session that the student and parents
are sent to get information about how to avoid truancy. And the second
one, if that fails, is a session with a
truancy specialist, which I take it is
one-to-one with the student. And the third
session is a mentor. The third step is a mentor. And I was intrigued
by this process because one of the
things that seemed to me to be prevalent in
so many of the steps that are more common in
the STTP scholarship, so many of the phenomena
that are involved in the causes of
students falling into the school-to-prison
pipeline, part of the problem seems to be that there’s
very little opportunity to really hear the child. And those opportunities
where the child can be heard are tough for the child
to take advantage of, because the child
is intimidated, or doesn’t know how to frame
his or her own problem– BOBBE BRIDGE: or is only
asked yes or no questions. DANIEL LARNER: -and
doesn’t know what’ll happen when he or
she returns to school and the kids ask questions
about what went on. And so whatever
the complications of the child’s situation are
hard to get from the child. I guess my question from all
of this is what in the process enables the court, in the
process as you understand it, and are trying
to advocate, allows us to hear from the child? Allows the child to articulate
in some way what the problem is and help the caregivers
craft a solution for them and lend support which is
meaningful and helpful. BOBBE BRIDGE: You’re so right. The critical voice is the
child’s voice without a doubt. The second most critical
voice is the family’s voice. Again, the paper goes
in at some length about the extent to which the
family’s role in either having a child believe that school
is an important place for him or her to be, or not, it
really begins at home. And the kind of support that
he or she receives there. So, those two voices are
paramount in my opinion. I think what you’re describing
is the Clark County process, the truancy court project in
Clark County, which really does allow for a
lot of opportunity outside of the court
for individuals to talk to one another and
to try to resolve the issues, to try to find what’s really
going on with this child. We know, for example,
from research that was done in Clark
County, that when they started using an
assessment tool for kids who were identified as being
truant by virtue of having a petition filed, so hence
the court had jurisdiction, an assessment was administered
to them, which was basically a baseline mental
health assessment, and found that these
children were experiencing more symptomatology of
significant mental health issues than the kids who were
coming in to the same court by virtue of a juvenile
delinquency petition. And so we know that
there are troubles. DANIEL LARNER: Is that the
[INAUDIBLE], exactly. And that was a real eye-opener. Not just to Clark
County, but to folks all around the state with
whom it has now been shared, to say these are
not, to the extent you thought so at any point in
time, cavalier absences that are happening when children
reach the level of absences that require a school
to file a petition. There are significant
issues, some of which are mental health and
orientation, others of which maybe have other
reasons for the behavior. So where the court comes
in, in Clark County, for example, is first of all
as a convener in developing these kinds of
systems alternative to the regular system to
convene the major players and say, look, we’ve
got to do better. Here are what these kids
look like in our community. They are troubled. They need resources. Parents often do not have
either the understanding or the resources to
be a powerful advocate for their own children. The schools lack resources. We need to come together
and bring service providers and the community
together and figure out what would be a good
triaging, if you will, to be able to
discern what really is behind the absenteeism,
what supports the family needs in order to ensure the child
may come back to school. There are almost as many
reasons as there are children, but they cluster
around issues having to do with parents
not being aware of the obligation of
parents themselves, who had limited education
and really don’t understand why
education is important, even if all you are
concerned about, and again, I use
that term advisedly, is the economic
circumstances of the family, schooling is so
important in order to improve those
economic circumstances. That argument, that
information needs to be made aware to the parent. The parent may not
be English-speaking. The parent may have
a need for the child to stay home to take care of
a younger sibling in order for the parents
themselves to work to allow the family to survive. Multitudes of reasons. The child may be afraid. There may be gang
infestation in the community, and he or she is scared
to even walk to school, or scared to be at school
because he’s being bullied. All kinds of information
that’s very complicated. It doesn’t come out
in a court hearing. It doesn’t lead itself to the
typical adversarial system. So what the Clark County
court is doing, in partnership with its educational
service district, as co-leaders were
brought people together, including parents
and children, who had been through this process,
so young people, by that time, instead of children, youth, to
talk about their experiences and what might
make it different. How could we have found out
earlier what these issues were and provided the
proper kind of support rather than bringing you to
court in the first instance? And so they came
up with what you were describing as a
workshop, which now happens in many of the counties. It happens in virtually
all of the counties that are working under
Models for Change, but also is being
adopted and adapted in various other counties
where folks come together who are at risk. This can be pre-position,
or it can be post-petition, but parents and children who
are at risk of either being on the eligibility list
for filing of a petition or who are already there can
just learn about this process. What the law says,
as Lorraine had asked, what the law says
about their obligation to go to school, and then what
some of these consequences are, what some of these
negative consequences are for children who
do not go to school. And that includes the
economic but it also includes the social and other
kinds of impacts and risks that they are subject
to based upon the fact that they are not engaged in
school and in a school program. Somewhere in the neighborhood,
depending upon the county, between 60% and 70% of
the kids and their parents who come to these kinds of
workshops return to school and are successfully
reengaged in their schoolwork. One of the other features I
should add to this workshop that you didn’t mention is not
just learning about the process and learning about the negative
consequences of not resolving this excessive
absenteeism, but they also have an opportunity to sit
down and talk to one another and a school representative
and the child. In some instances, we’re
using peer mediators, so actually the child
is talking to someone who is a near peer, someone
who is a little bit older, sometimes a teenager but most
likely a college student, who can talk to this
young person to hear the voice of the young person as
to why they are missing school. Some of that is up to the
child whether that gets brought back to the table
in the mediated process. But for the most part,
kids are very open. Once they are provided
an opportunity to discuss it with somebody
with whom they feel comfortable and they have a trusting
relationship with, it works, amazingly so. And the child and the family
and the school representative come together, either
with an adult mediator, or with the continuation of
having the peer mediator, and they resolve themselves
there to work on an agreement where everybody has a role. The student agrees to go back to
school, the school, now having heard that there
is a, for example, significant conflict
between this child and another student
who he’s in class with, let’s remove him
from that situation, see if we can’t shore
up some supports there. This is an example. The school agrees to do that. The parent agrees
that they will do whatever they can to ensure
that the child goes to school. We’re talking for
the most part now about middle school- and
high school-aged kids, for the most part, who are the
subject of truancy petitions. Some would argue that
it should be younger, but let’s not get
off on that right now, so that the
parent is basically saying I will do my best,
I will help whatever. If he needs an alarm
clock, whatever he needs, this is what I will
contribute to this situation. So everyone is held accountable. It isn’t all focused
on the child. Certainly the positive
outcomes we search for is a focus on the child. But everybody is responsible. And off they go. And then if that doesn’t work,
if the absenteeism persists, perhaps we haven’t gotten
to what’s really going on, or perhaps the services, if
there in fact were services discussed, perhaps they
were not availed of, there were
transportation issues, or there was a
long waiting list. The list can go on. But then get to the next level–
we’re a community truancy board. Two or three people,
usually three or four people,
who come together again to have a bolstering
of the situation to let these families
and the child know that the community
is there to help. What can we do to ensure, you
know these things were supposed to happen, why didn’t they,
what else can we do here? And then finally, when
that doesn’t work, again, a more one-on-one specialist
who not only can hopefully ensure that by this time
almost 100% of the time you would have some
services which are needed. Why is it that these services
are not being engaged? How can we help? Is it a matter of driving
you to an appointment? Is it a matter that
we need to advocate for you to get to
the top of the line in this particular
community-based organization? What can we do to make sure that
the child gets back in school? But it’s levels of
intensity, frequently. In the meantime,
the court is there to receive reports, to perhaps
act as its own kind of mediator if that seems to be necessary,
because the court can then be engaged in a problem-solving
activity, which is more frequent now with our drug
courts and other kinds of reforms that
we’ve done in order to make the court more
effective than just in an adversarial process so the
court is there to hold people accountable if necessary. But the formal court process
has not been engaged. Nobody’s going to a hearing. Nobody is in need of a lawyer,
and yet hopefully the work is being done. And these are various
kinds of experiments that have been
going on in changing of the process around this
state and Clark County is a prime example of a
great success as a result of doing things differently. DANIEL LARNER: Who is on
the community truancy board and what authority do they have? BOBBE BRIDGE: It’s all
voluntary, of course, as most aversion
programs are, by the way. But that varies as well. In Clark County, typically
their community truancy boards consist of someone
from the school. It could be a classroom teacher,
it might be the classroom teacher for one of the
children but maybe not, because typically these boards
will hear two, maybe three cases in a session. And the sessions maybe
every week, twice a month, again, depending upon
the jurisdiction. But typically there
will be somebody with an education background. Typically there will be
someone with a mental health background. If there appears to be an
indication of substance abuse, or some other kinds of issue,
whatever that might be, a learning disability,
whatever, a person in that capacity as well. And then, a person who is a
parent, an interested party who loves kids and wants
to help kids, retirees, retired professionals,
all of the above are utilized in these
community truancy boards. And they have been developed
to mimic community boards which have been used for a very
long time in this state on the juvenile delinquency
side for minor offenses, youth in this state
who, now we’re talking about offenses,
but for minor offenses, on at least two occasions, a
child will have an opportunity to go to a board, a community
accountability board, is what they’re
usually called, CABs, and those boards are made up
of just the same kind of folks that we discussed for the
community truancy board and are hugely successful. 90%, 95% of the kids who
go before those community accountability
boards, or whatever they may be called in
the local jurisdiction never again commit
an offense, return to successful and
productive lives. So we weren’t making this up. We were trying to
take a model which we knew worked in a
different kind of setting, arguably an even more
difficult setting, because there we were talking
about a child who had engaged in criminal conduct, and
yet with truancy we’re not at that stage yet. And so we thought if it works
for this level of behavior, maybe it can work in
the truancy setting. And it certainly has been. DANIEL LARNER: And so is
it the truancy board talks with the child and the parents
and are other people called in? Like other agencies
that were supposed to be involved in the
coordination of care that was devised in the first
stage of the process. Typically not, but
some boards do. Again, the parents
and child have to agree to this
kind of a process. But they can act as overseers. They can say, we’d like
to hear from you in a week and see whether or not agency X
has done the initial screening, that they’ve accepted
you, et cetera. You know the conversation is
really limited to the parents and to the child. Because otherwise,
it’s beginning to smack of a more
formal proceeding, and you might as well
have a judge there. But it depends. In Spokane, which makes great
use of community truancy boards, they have not yet
adopted their workshop as a first screen. But they are making great
use of community truancy boards in virtually
all of their districts now in Spokane county. I think there’s a
few remaining who still don’t have boards per se. But they, not
infrequently, their boards seek to have some
oversight so that they are monitoring the progress. And again, not have
to involve the court. Because they are taking that
responsibility on themselves to monitor the progress. Time is of the essence here. There was a reason for five
absences and 10 absences as being a threshold. Every day that a child is
absent from school, particularly at the middle school
and high school level that this is focused on
really results in more and more likelihood
that they’re going to be failing in a core course,
that they will be developing attitudinal issues, I
guess, so that school becomes more and more
of a remote place. It’s kind of like the
self-fulfilling hypothesis that, I don’t want to
go there because I’ll be embarrassed to
go back because I’ve missed so much school. And yet it just
keeps escalating. And then for most districts,
once you miss a certain number of days, you are no longer
eligible to get credit for that class. And so then you say to
yourself as a child, why should I go back? I’m not going to
get credit anyway. I might as well just drop out. So you see the slippery
slope we get on. So time is of the essence, and
even though the courts are, in my opinion these
reforms, the courts are stepping back and saying
we’re not going to require you to come to court. We’re not going to
require you to provide us specific reports on
a specific child, we are going to leave it to you. But we’re going to have
a certain amount of faith and trust based upon the
process that we’ve gone through to develop this new system
that you are in fact being accountable and that if these
mechanisms that you’re using in order to get the child
engaged are not working then try something different and
try something different again. But at the most you have to
tell us when you need us, because we can’t afford to have
a child miss anymore school and get to the dropout stage. JOHN RICHARDSON: I’ve been
thinking along two lines while working
through my thinking about the
school-to-prison pipeline. One line is what I’ll call the
counter-factual line, which would be, show me the evidence
that there is a pipeline. Show me the evidence to support
the use of the word cause. Why wouldn’t kids be destined
for incarceration anyway, whether they were
suspended or not or given any kind
of number of crimes? BOBBE BRIDGE: Did I say cause? JOHN RICHARDSON: No. We’ll refer to some fictitious– BOBBE BRIDGE: Right. JOHN RICHARDSON: -my
thinking along the lines is the very phrase
school-to-prison pipeline is, it contains two elements. One is causality. School-to-prison, so
therefore it’s already there. School causes prison. Pipeline, it’s an
imagery, the second one is the word pipeline, that there
is a constant flow of effects that accumulate, and so forth. So in fact, the
research is already set up, what we observe,
how we observe it, how we interpret
it, and so forth. But I really yet have
not found research that I would really hold up in
high regard that acknowledges the contamination
of certain things we call fallacies, the
ecological fallacy. You can have correlations
between suspension rates and incarceration rates, but
it’s a spurious correlation. But we make inferences
about individual behavior, and so forth. The second line of
thinking has to do with that I might say
nothing has really changed in the last 100 plus years. When I hear your
emphasis on truancy, my mind immediately thinks
of the use of the term stubborn children at
the turn of the century. So it’s always been around. There’s been various ways in
which we describe the absence from school and so forth. So all that said, I’m kind
of like an advertising myself as a cautious cynic here. So let me get right
to a question. If, a hypothetical
situation, a child is gone from school
for X number of days, or something like that,
and they’re brought in, I heard you say that there
were a multiplicity of reasons for why they are truant. My sociological-contaminated
mind immediately thinks, no there aren’t, there’s never
any multiplicity of anything, there’s always
about three or four. So let’s say we focus just on
that initial micro-situation, where before they
enter the pipeline is some kind of notion. But we focus on
the truant point. I’m inclined to expect
eminently reasonable, rationally thought-out, ethnically
[? oriented ?] commands to not go to school. I think of research and
call the schooling penalty. The child knows that the
more they go to school, the longer they stay in
school, the lower their income, and in fact, they’re
empirically correct. So my question is,
what do they say? What do we learn? There are reasons for why
they’re not in school. And can we get any more
definitive than multiplicity? And what would they be? Has there been any
research on trying to reduce from
multiplicity down to four recurring reasons why, and
they’re eminently reasonable? That’s what I’d love to know. BOBBE BRIDGE: Well, you’ve
raised a lot of issues. Let me see if I
can sort that out. JOHN RICHARDSON: Just,
what’s the evidence on why they’re not in school? BOBBE BRIDGE:
Well, research done just in the context of the
Models for Change initiative, here in the state of Washington,
done by Washington State University, primarily focusing
on Benton Franklin counties, and then additional research
that’s been done by Doctor Tom. George from the Administrative
Office of the Courts here in the state of
Washington, based upon the results of
his assessment tool that he developed, which
is the [INAUDIBLE] the risk and needs of
student absenteeism, Washington absenteeism
really do focus on particular issues relating
to school failure, which, again, is perhaps
circular, but perhaps not. That the child does not
feel successful in school and begins to retreat
from that lack of success. And in particular, it
really look to all classes in school, all of
the curriculum, but particularly the core
areas of reading, writing, and arithmetic sort
of thing, where, and this begins to happen
at a young age, which is why I was indicating earlier
that some would argue that we are overly focused on middle
school and high school and we really ought to be
looking at elementary school where these patterns of,
if you will, disengagement, which is different
from truancy, but it’s a beginning of a pattern
of phasing yourself out of the school community and the
whole education environment, that certainly is one. And then there are,
beyond that, elements that relate to family
circumstances, which is a key component. And that is why the involvement
of the family in the solution is so critical, and why
if the school is not able to connect with the
family or if the court is not able to have the
family become involved it’s a virtual
prescription for failure. The family has to be supportive
of the child attending school and to do whatever
it needs to do to try to get whatever supports
it needs in order to permit the child to come to school. So that would be a second one. A third major element has to
do with mental health concerns. There are depression,
anxiety, those kinds of diagnosable
mental health issues that are found to be
an indicator, a reason for excessive absenteeism. And then once you get beyond
those three main areas, because learning disability
happens to be another one, but that is really more
attached to the school failure, sometimes related to a child
who has a learning disability that’s been undetected. It can also relate to the
mental health issue I guess, but those are the key factors
that the research that we’ve done here in the
state of Washington indicate are what is occurring
in our truant population. Now, I sat on
truancy cases right after the law took
effect in 1995. I helped to develop
the early systems that we used between
’95, ’96, and ’97 for truancy cases
in King County. And I did hear a multiplicity
of issues from these kids. And some of them were
as simple, or at least superficially simple, now
I would see them once, and then they would, if
they went back to school, I never saw them again, it was
as simple as, I’m too tired, and I can’t get
up in the morning. Well, there’s something
else going on there, but I take that at face value
and say what can we do to help? And so we talk in some
very mundane terms, because I can remember it
as though it were yesterday. About well, we’ll
get an alarm clock, and how about if we have
someone call you, and then would you really do that? And then they get all perked
up and say sure, I will. And sometimes that works,
and sometimes it doesn’t. But what I think has happened,
practicing psychology without a license, is that
the child knows somebody cares and somebody is watching, and so
therefore I’m really interested that you go to school, and
so I’m going to go to school. But then we get
some kids who would be crying because they’re
so afraid because they’re being bullied. And at that point, it’s
not me, as the judge, who is certainly the person
able to resolve this. But it is certainly, get the
school counselor involved, get this school, whatever part
of the school administration, needs to be aware
of this, and try to get them at the school level,
to create the kind of climate and the kind of
safety and security that this child needs to feel,
so that he or she can safely go to school. And frankly, if they
can’t satisfy that at the school level
then they ought to be making
arrangements to have the child within the district
go to another school. And we had all of
the above happen in the context of
a court hearing. JOHN RICHARDSON: In
context of a court hearing. BOBBE BRIDGE: Well, because
I’m hearing this now. These are my examples of
kids coming before me. What I’m saying is that, that
was a part of my learning of why should this be happening
at the court level? And why can’t these same
conversations be had if the school, for whatever
reason cannot do it by itself, and I think there are
a variety of reasons, I won’t say multiplicity,
there’s a variety of reasons why the school isn’t able
to conduct those kinds of conversations on their own. For one thing, they don’t
have, necessarily, folks who know about
the resources that are available in
the community, if it is a community-wide problem. Or what options might be
available in another school, if it’s within a district. All of these kinds of questions. So the team that
needs to come together can best be facilitated by
either a school district personnel or, like
in King County, a team is facilitated by the
prosecuting attorney’s office, who doesn’t appear
in truancy cases until and unless
there’s a contempt. community Or it
could be the court. And the idea is that
this conversation that I was having at the very
expensive and adversarial setting of the
courthouse doesn’t need to happen in that
expensive setting. They can have it at the
community truancy board level, et cetera. JOHN RICHARDSON: OK. Real quickly? LORRAINE KASPRISIN: We have
just a few minutes left. BOBBE BRIDGE: Because I
want to go back to your– I don’t think that the
school-to-prison pipeline, if it is stated as
causal, that it should be. Because I don’t think it is. I do think that
though however, there are legitimate
correlations between kids who are truant, kids who
are disengaged in school, kids who drop out of school, and
these other kinds of failures in life. And the statistics
that I never remember but you know about the number of
prison inmates who dropped out of school and the
like, not causality, and not that there aren’t
other risk factors, but school is a risk factor. JOHN RICHARDSON: But it
always has been, in many ways. BOBBE BRIDGE: That doesn’t
mean that we’ve solved it. So we’ve slapped a label on it. JOHN RICHARDSON: One of the
more powerful studies I’ve ever read in my career,
let’s say, is when a black kid– small,
young black kids– told her to take an IQ
test, and they freak out. But they said but
they said to the kid, you tell me when
you want to take it. And in the meantime, you
don’t have to sit-in a chair. You can do it on the floor. And you can eat Cheetos. When they set up
those circumstances, the race differential
disparity and IQ was erased. My question is, do the kids who
come before any court hearing, do they know that they have
been, in a way, labeled truant? Do they know it has
to do with truancy? And so what are the actual
physical circumstances of the room? What I’m hearing is a
lot of the official line. There’s this and this, all
the language, and so forth. But the kids are looking
up at this barrage of rules and people. I don’t know, what
does it look like? BOBBE BRIDGE: Not necessarily. They’re certainly not
looking up at anybody until they get in the court. And even then, it depends
upon how the court is sitting. But the idea is for it to
be a caring community that is working with this trial
to listen to the child. JOHN RICHARDSON: I understand
that, but does the child see it as a caring situation? BOBBE BRIDGE: Well, we
haven’t done surveys on how the child sees it,
which would be a great idea to do that. We do take surveys from kids
about the workshop process as a part of the qualitative
evaluation of these workshops. Those are the first cut, the
broadest number of people, and they’re very complimentary
from the standpoint of the kids. I felt that somebody
was listening to me, I felt I was able to articulate
my issues with the school, with the teacher, with
fill-in-the-blank was about. The parents similarly had very
positive things to say about, this was the first time I
felt like I had an equal voice to the school representative. They weren’t lecturing me,
this was a conversation. I’m paraphrasing,
obviously, that includes workshops that
are held in Clark County, and King County,
[INAUDIBLE] Franklin, very diverse places
we’re getting generally positive experiences that way. LORRAINE KASPRISIN: This
hour has gone very fast. We have so much
more to talk about. I’d like to thank our
guest, Justice Bobbe Bridge, and our co-interviewers, Dan
Larner and John Richardson for joining me today. You can read Justice
Bridge’s article in the Journal of
Educational Controversy. Come and join us as we
continue our conversations in the future. Thank you again.

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