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A female student is threatened with suspension for wearing a dress that hangs two inches above her knee. Another is sent home on the last day of her senior year for exposing her collar-bones. Among the two students involved in a fight, the student of color is suspended while the white student serves in-school detention for an hour. A transgender female student, who has already legally changed her gender and name, is still forced by the school to use the male bathroom. A group of black students sitting on the school lawn are questioned and sent to serve detention whereas a group of white students doing the same are not even frowned upon. The response to a mother's complain about her son being bullied is, "Well, maybe he should stop being so open about his sexuality." These are the things that are occurring at our schools, and some of them are happening too close to home for comfort.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a national trend where children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Policies like "zero-tolerance" criminalize minor violations of school rules. These practices work disproportionately against marginalized youth, especially students of color, students on Individualized Education Plans, LGBTQ youth, homeless or low-income students and youth involved in the foster care system. As a result, incarceration ends up becoming many students' futures, as opposed to the education that they deserve and that is necessary not only for their personal growth and empowerment, but also for the betterment of our community as a whole.

A 2014 Department of Education (DOE) study found that, "Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students." Moreover, "While Black students represent 16 percent of student enrollment, they represent 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest." The DOE also states that less than half of Native American and Native-Alaskan high school students had access to the full range of math and science courses. According to Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 66 percent of LGTBQ youth experienced physical harassment and even violence. Of those that did report the attacks, 31 percent said the school made no effort to respond. GLSEN also reported that LGBTQ students have a disproportional amount of disciplinary problems that keep them out of school and make up 15 percent of those incarcerated in juvenile detention.

Critical questions that should be posed around youth incarceration are, what are the root causes of the behavior exhibited by the youth in our school system, and why is school push-out our answer? More importantly, what can each and every one of us do to break this pipeline in order to not just help our youth but also our community?

There are already some organizations in our community that mitigate the impact of the pipeline and work towards dismantling it. Salt Lake Peer Court (SLPC) is among those programs. With a strong mission statement that states "To combat the disproportionate involvement of low-income and minority students in America's school-to-prison pipeline by providing all youth who commit minor offenses an alternative to the juvenile justice system," SLPC uses restorative justice with the goal to improve our neighborhoods, cities and juvenile justice system. We assist our peers and their families to strengthen their ties to their school and community while they work to improve themselves as individuals.

I have been working with SLPC as a volunteer for two years. I am amazed by the difference we, as their peers, mentors and role-models, can make in the lives of hundreds of youths each year. I highly encourage high school students to join the program and join the movement to help break the pipeline. For the last two years, SLPC, Racially Just Utah, American Liberties Union, and other youth activism groups have organized events like "Education not Incarceration" And "Speak Up on School-Pushout" have helped inform our community about the school-to-prison pipeline. This year, we organized the "Lift Us Up, Don't Push Us Out" event to challenge the school-to-prison pipeline. We organized this event with the belief that students and youth should be empowered, not pushed out of schools. We should all be working to challenge the policies and practices within public school systems and the juvenile justice system that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Sabita Bastakoti is a senior at West High School and a volunteer for Salt Lake Peer Court.