ANN ARBOR — Last week, state Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) hosted a town hall in a series of community conversations that he began last May on “How to Create a School to Success Continuum: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” The event attracted nearly 90 attendees, in addition to those who tuned in to the live streaming of the event, as Zemke moderated a discussion focused on analyzing the epidemic from a student perspective.

At last May’s initial conversation, Zemke spoke with members of the community, including education professionals, to discuss how youth can get involved in interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. It became apparent during the first town hall that including area youth in future discussions was critical for the process.

“When we began these conversations last spring, we quickly recognized that we could not identify effective solutions to helping our students succeed without engaging them in these conversations,” Zemke said. “I am incredibly grateful for and proud of the panelists who shared how the systemic school-to-prison-pipeline has affected their lives, and provided their insight for how to improve our educational system. As a legislator, it is critical that we hear their stories and use their input to inform effective, meaningful policy.”

The discussion focused on how the zero-tolerance laws impacted students’ experience in the school system. The conversation also acknowledged the notable changes in schools since the bipartisan bill package to ease zero tolerance in school systems went into effect in August 2017, of which Zemke was a major bill sponsor. Zemke’s bill in the package, House Bill 5620, amended the encouraged provisions section of the “Matt Epling Safe School Law” to include restorative practices to correct bullying behavior.

The panelists also discussed the need for conversations about implementing restorative justice policies, criminal justice reform, school funding equity, and ways in which students and policymakers alike can help bridge the gap between those with privilege and those who are marginalized to better understand their experiences.

“In order to give our young people the freedom to shape their life by receiving a comprehensive and equitable education, we need to address the systemic barriers that too many students face,” Zemke said. “To disrupt this destructive pipeline, we need leadership in our community, and the leadership shown by our panelists, activists and professionals in the community gives me hope that we can truly solve this problem.”