Candidates Light on Children’s Issues

“The truth is that no one has yet invented or discovered a mode of measurement for the intensity of human belief. Hence there can be yet no successful method of communicating intelligibly a sound method of self-analysis for one’s belief.”       –Professor John Henry Wigmore, regarding legal burden of proof

Jurist John Henry Wigmore described the efforts made by courts to define the threshold at which one is convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a disposition of guilt. What Professor Wigmore observes is that human belief is not a hard science, and that the factfinder of a case cannot know for certain what has transpired in a given case. Human belief is then difficult to measure, define, and is virtually untellable. As we weigh the policy statements of the presidential candidates, watch the debates, and pour over election analysis, this quote continues to ricochet around in my brain. One must ask oneself, what will convince me that this candidate can assume the role of American president?

Much is at stake this election cycle: a nomination to the Supreme Court, and with it, our political legitimacy, criminal justice reform, possibly a thoughtful re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), as well as the health of our economy and our country. While as adults we are able to vote for the candidate who best represents our values, political orientation and convictions, children have little agency or rights within our political system and are largely affected by our political choices. As child advocates, it is then important to understand where the candidates stand on issues of education and juvenile justice, among others.

Super Tuesday swiftly approaches. With Donald Trump firmly in the lead after the Nevada GOP primary, his website is absent of content on issues of juvenile justice reform and education, or positions related to children’s rights and welfare. While Marco Rubio also does not address juvenile justice, his education platform includes the prohibition of federally mandated Common Core curriculum, promotes local choice surrounding curriculum, and advocates for charter schools and greater parental choice to better, and innovate within, the American public education system. He also promotes paid leave for new parents, strongly defends heterosexual marriage, and supports anti-poverty programs that prioritize traditional marriage and family values. Ted Cruz holds similar positions to Rubio on marriage and family values.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic candidates reclaim family values. Bernie Sanders asserts the need for paid family leave, sick leave, and vacation time. He supports free college tuition at public institutions and refinancing of student loan debt at current interest rates. Hillary Clinton proposes up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and has called for increased access to early childhood education and doubled federal investment in programs like Head Start. She supports debt-free college and also refinancing of student loan debt at current interest rates. It is unclear how either candidate will ensure state cooperation with their plans for free or reduced tuition.

Both Democratic candidates offer well-outlined proposals for criminal justice reform, largely mirroring one another and without specific mention of juvenile justice. Shared initiatives include ending privatized prisons, better training of law enforcement, sentencing reform, curbing militarization of police, and investment in rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration for those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders. Sanders takes these initiatives a step further by calling for “taking marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs,” in his website’s section on Racial Justice. Clinton announced that she would put $2 billion towards behavioral health support staff to address the school-to-prison pipeline.

There are undoubtedly many other areas of policy which directly affect children — immigration, healthcare, and so forth, and all candidates’ platforms warrant thorough perusal. In the agora of American politics, posterity is largely kicked around for rhetorical exigence, however, our future generations are being, or not being, enrolled in pre-K now. They exist in environments that either increase or reduce their risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline now, in schools that may have outsourced discipline to School Resource Officers and local law enforcement. These are exigent issues, and certainly, before we head to the polls, if we don’t have the information that we need, we need to press the candidates and the media with our questions.

Former Supreme Court Justice Harlan included Professor Wigmore’s quote in his concurrence to the majority opinion in In re Winship, which set the beyond a reasonable doubt standard as the legal burden of proof for juvenile delinquency cases. Surely, the American presidency should require our highest standard, however subjective, and our most resolute convictions. Before we vote, we may just need more information.

American Hand Flag

Image from

Houston School Board Refuses To Ban Suspensions


Despite the fact that school boards across the country have banned school suspensions, Texas has yet to join the growing trend. Five Houston ISD school board members voted to keep school suspensions as a last resort for teachers who are “deal(ing) with kids who they can’t contain” in pre-kindergarten through second grade classrooms. The rejected plan also included provisions for a team of specialists and $2 million in classroom management training for HISD teachers.

In lieu of the ban, HISD decided to retain school suspensions of second grade and under students as a “last resort.” Of 2,673 reported disciplinary incidents during the 2014-2015 school year, 87 percent involved youth considered to be economically disadvantaged or at risk, and 84 percent were male. 70 percent of the youth disciplined with suspension were African-American even though black youths comprise only 25 percent of the HISD student body.

The school board’s initial proposal was laudable. It proposed the suspension ban as a positive approach to deescalating conflict in classrooms. It called for more accountability and more disciplinary data in an effort to develop school-specific annual plans to reduce misbehavior and rectify inequities. Encouragingly, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier called for a more empathetic approach to discipline, saying, “We understand better now than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children. We must take a hard look at how we are handling these issues to ensure we’re not contributing to an already stressful situation for these students.” Furthermore, schools with lower suspension rates have been found to have higher achievement rates and narrowed achievement gaps, while schools with higher suspension rates see the opposite effect.

The school board’s decision was not without dissent. Other board members and teachers voiced opposition to suspension. HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones called suspension an “ineffective” deterrent. Voicing concern for students at-risk for the school-to-prison pipeline, she said, “They go home. There’s nothing at home for them. They come back and it’s even worse. I cannot vote for continuing to perpetuate the pipeline to prison, not just for African-American children, but for any child.”

A similar article appeared earlier this week on Houston Public Media.

The Child Left Behind

Studies conducted by the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute show that deportation of a parent has a dramatic effect on the child, similar to when a child’s parent goes to prison. Washington Times reporter, Lydia DePillis, wrote:

The Obama administration has already expelled about 3.7 million people who were living here illegally between 2009 and 2013. While the pace of deportations has slowed dramatically, with a shift in enforcement towards weeding out those who have actually committed crimes in America, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that several hundred thousand children have either one or no parents in America as a result. And 5.3 million children are still living with unauthorized parents, constantly under threat of losing one or both.

We’re just starting to understand the impact that losing a mother — or, much more often, a father — can have on those kids’ development.

A pair of reports issued Monday paint a broad picture of how kids have been affected by deportations in the past several years. Both were funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and conducted by the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute, with help from research and input from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The first, a survey of smaller-scale studies conducted on unauthorized immigrant families, shows that the effects of losing a parent to deportation are basically the same as what happens when a parent goes to prison: Kids can become homeless, bounce around to different family members, lose focus in school, and undergo long-lasting psychological trauma. One study found that family income dropped by 70 percent in the six months following a deportation, and one quarter of families in that situation reported going hungry.

The second, a synthesis of field work at study sites in California, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Illinois, found all of those impacts — and also identified gaps in social services that are ill-equipped to handle the special needs of children whose families have been ruptured by immigration rules.

“Study participants reported that children refused to eat, pulled out their hair, or had persistent stomachaches or headaches,” the authors write. “Others turned to more self-destructive outlets such as cutting themselves or abusing substances.”

Find the full article at:

Find the report at: