Leaders Weigh In on School Discipline, Teacher Turnover

Meridian, Miss. Last month, concerns were raised about a high teacher turnover in the Meridian Public School District, allegedly because of changes in the way teachers are able to discipline students.

The alleged School to Jail Pipeline is an issue that has been widely debated in the city of Meridian over the last few years. A report by the U.S. Department of Justice alleges that some students within the Meridian Public School District have been harshly punished in the past for what are called minor infractions.

"It has been as minor as the wrong color socks, belts, throwing peanuts on the bus, just profanity," Meridian - Lauderdale County NAACP President Randle Jennings says. "And I mean just stuff that's typical children's behavior, but not to the point where he or she should be arrested. And definitely not incarcerated."

Since concerns have been raised about that School to Jail Pipeline in Meridian schools, the school district has reached a deal with the Justice Department to more closely examine disciplinary cases before issuing a punishment. Representative Charles Young, Jr. has visited Meridian classrooms and says the deal is not a good one and is pushing teachers away.

"This isn't military," Representative Young says. "This is supposed to be a learning environment for our children and there should open lines of communication with everyone and for everyone in order to correct problems or situations we have at hand."

Both Representative Young and Jennings agree that meetings need to take place to look over data in order to determine if that softer approach to school discipline is really driving teachers away. But that's not all they say.

"The park services have not come on accord," Jennings says. "The housing authority has not come on one accord. And the school system have not did a local agreement. And those three agencies serve the same child every day. But you have not had a collect coming together, sit down at the round table to say hey, let's structure these children's lives."

"And that takes a lot of pressure off the teachers and the environment," Representative Young says. "Right now, you've got people that are disrupting the classroom and as a result of that, the entire classroom has to suffer."

The latest teacher turnover numbers for the Meridian Public School District show it lost its largest number of teachers three years ago when 27 percent of the teachers resigned. The following year, that number dropped to 21 percent. Last year, 20-percent left.

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