Ernest Saadiq Morris,Esq. presents Urban Youth Justice’s Workshop at the 2015  Seattle Race Conference

How HOSTILE LESSONS: School-Based Implicit Bias Isolates & Targets Youth of Color for Failure by Devaluing their Identity, Family and Community

 *UPDATE* This interactive workshop explored how the U.S. public education system has normalized implicit racial bias by favoring “white” racial identity and cultural preferences that perpetuate structural inequities. Implicit racial bias creates racially hostile school climates with punitive consequences for Youth of Color implicitly perceived as non-conforming, especially Black students and other historically disadvantaged youth. Identifying structural implicit racial bias and advocating to dismantle resulting structural racial inequities is a key component to achieving racial justice in the 21st century.
Thanks to a diverse group of ENGAGED PARTICIPANTS and to the SEATTLE RACE CONFERENCE organizing team!

Spotlight on 2014 Legal Fellow Whitney Knox

Whitney.headshotSpotlight on 2014 Legal Fellow Whitney Knox

WHITNEY KNOX, Seattle University School of Law ’13, was recently named the Urban Youth Justice/RITA Project Legal Fellow for the Racial Impact Transparency & Accountability Project (RITA Project) of the Urban Youth Justice Initiative. The fellowship allows rising 3L and post-graduate students the opportunity to conduct substantive legal research in the area of youth justice and civil rights and shared authorship of a subsequent report published to the community stakeholders, including policymakers and legal advocates.

The RITA Project conducts rigorous detailed research and analysis of public institutional policies and practices to identify patterns of disparate racial/ethnic impact and identify key systemic points that produce disparate outcomes for youth and young adults of color.  The research goal is that the transparency and awareness from exposing systemic disparate impact will promote accountability for multi-level systemic change by identifying unique & distinct advocacy opportunities at different systemic stages and/or youth contact points. Upon completion, all reports generated from the UYJ/RITA Project Fellowship are made available online at:

As the Winter/Spring 2014 Law Fellow, Knox focused her research and analysis on the racial impact of fare enforcement in public transportation, including assessing the risk for racial disproportionality through application of the current fare enforcement rules, regulations, policies and practices.

“Whitney was given the purpose of the research project with discretion to articulate the means and parameters of her work, specifically to encourage her own vision, and Whitney took that discretion and ran with it. Whitney has demonstrated amazing leadership and self-initiative that laid a significant foundation and made a stellar contribution to our racial justice work that other RITA research associates will benefit from and collaboratively build upon,” said Ernest Saadiq Morris, director of Urban Youth Justice.

After completing her Fellowship, Knox is moving on to a staff attorney position with the Georgia Legal Services Program providing legal services to underrepresented populations in SW Georgia.

We talked to Whitney about her background and her fellowship experience with UYJ’s RITA Project:

Why did you pursue the legal Fellow opportunity with the UYJ/RITA Project?

I pursued the fellowship with the RITA project because of my interest in helping to uncover inequity issues in the Seattle and King County area. As a native Seattleite, the systemic issues that the UYJ and RITA projects address are of great concern to me and in some cases are issues that have directly impacted my life or the lives of those close to me.

How was your experience as the UYJ/RITA Project Legal Fellow?

I appreciate the time that I spent working as a UYJ/RITA Fellow. I was given the opportunity to research pertinent issues that were interesting and important to me. As a post-graduate Fellow, my work allowed me to put into practice skills that I learned and developed throughout law school. While I was given clear parameters for my research, I was also afforded broad discretion to put together a research plan that worked for me. Furthermore, the legal issues that I researched, although specific to Washington and 9th Circuit jurisprudence, are certainly not unique to this jurisdiction. My research set a firm foundation for me to build on as I continue to work in public interest lawyering throughout the United States. Working with UYJ was a great culmination to my formal education and start to my legal career.

Do you have any advice to student who are pursuing public interest legal careers?

My advice is to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities as much as possible. It was my experience that the courses I thought to be useful for the type of advocacy I wanted to do were offered infrequently and were difficult to get into when they were offered. As a result, through Seattle University’s Externship Program, I opted to spend a heavy majority of my third year in the field, working with attorneys and clients on real legal issues. This practice and exposure to the law and legal issues faced by target populations helped me to narrow my legal interests as well as provided a forum where I could practice and further develop new lawyering skills. I feel that It was these experiences that made me a competitive job applicant and has allowed me to hit the ground running as I begin my career in public interest lawyering.

Tues. Oct 22nd(10am PST/1pmEST) – FREE WEB ROUNDTABLE: Alternatives to School Discipline: A New Frontier in Student’s Rights

1334392_classroom_400.CRLC.ABA Presented by the ABA Children’s Rights Litigation Committee Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 1:00pm-2:00pm Eastern Rosa Hirji, Moderator Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice Frank LoMonte, Student Press Law Center Brent Pattison, Middleton Children’s Rights Center, Drake University Law School

School districts are increasingly implementing alternative approaches to school discipline in response to the backlash on exclusionary practices that disparately impact students of color, students with disabilities and other disadvantaged minority groups. Alternatives to traditional discipline include positive behavior supports, restorative practices, surveillance of social media, anti-bullying policies etc. Schools, state legislatures and even the federal Office for Civil Rights are accepting these approaches and are incorporating them into existing school disciplinary policies and practices in various degrees.  Additionally, school districts are increasingly relying on other channels that avoid traditional discipline such as truancy proceedings, special education, mental health referrals, involvement of law enforcement, alternative schools, and/or charter schools. This panel will examine the implications of these approaches to established Constitutional and statutory rights of students. Panelists will be presented with actual scenarios, and will be asked to spot issues and analyze them in the context of existing Constitutional and statutory student rights. REGISTER FREE:

The American Pipe Dream: Winning the Future Without Youth of Color

Published on Dignity In Schools (
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice

“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in […] education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.” – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 25, 2011

In his January 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama introduced “Winning the Future” as a slogan to underline the urgency and importance of continued investment in public education to ensure the future of American success and competitiveness domestically and abroad. Nevertheless, the Obama Department of Education’s Race to the Top funding competition champions corporate-driven education reform that rewards standardized testing performance and private charter school expansion, while failing to equally prioritize the guarantee of equal educational opportunity. As schools focus on meeting statistical goals, educational disparities often remain unaddressed or actually worsen due to school practices – such as the disproportionate use of zero tolerance discipline and special education placements, as well as inferior curriculum tracking – that contribute to unequal educational opportunity. These disparities threaten to undermine the future participation of a generation of students of color in the American dream.

Indeed, recent evidence shows that zero tolerance school discipline and criminal justice referrals continue to disproportionately affect Black, Latino and other disadvantaged youth, i.e., students with special needs/disabilities, LGBT and English Language Learner students.

A March 2011 report co-authored by the Florida NAACP, Florida ACLU and the Advancement Project, Still Haven’t Shut Off the School-to-Prison Pipeline, indicated that Florida school districts are referring too many students to the criminal justice system for school misbehavior – even after state law was changed to eliminate zero tolerance and give school officials discretion for handling certain offenses, such as fighting, trespassing, disorderly conduct and theft of less than $300.

The law sought to draw a distinction between petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors and serious threats to school safety, said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU. What we’ve found instead is that some districts are continuing to refer cases to law enforcement that may be better handled at the school level.

Similarly, a January 2011 report exposed a crisis of systematic school pushout of Philadelphia’s Black and Latino students through widespread and discriminatory use of zero tolerance discipline. At the same time, New York City continues to blatantly disenfranchise Black and Latino youth of equal educational opportunity in multiple ways, including: disproportionate denial of admission of Black and Latino youth to elite, specialized public schools based on a single standardized test score, disproportionate closures of public schools that serve the most disadvantaged Black and Latino youth with special needs, and the disproportionate zero tolerance discipline of Black and Latino youth.

Meanwhile, Alabama Republican Party leader Hugh McInnish recently sent a letter defending the disparities in education and discipline between Caucasian and Black students in the Huntsville, Alabama school district, highlighted in recent findings of the U.S. Justice Department, declaring: “If there is unfairness, it is because life itself is unfair. The unfairness is not manmade.”

This stunning attempted justification of unequal educational opportunity shows a callous disregard for the life potential and value of Black youth and other disadvantaged youth that is reflected in education policies nationwide.

Color-blind and disability-free education reform urges the general public’s acceptance of survival of the fittest education policy methods as simply enforcing higher standards of accountability. Even the extended economic recession is exploited as a convenient justification for educational disparities, since the grouping of youth into educational haves and have-nots supposedly assists with the effective investment of limited public education funding. It is no coincidence that the corporate education reform model stigmatizes youth of color from politically and economically disadvantaged communities as it simultaneously disenfranchises them of their right to equal educational opportunity. This perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline and cycle of exploitation of youth of color that increases their risk of mass incarceration and lifelong economic oppression, including chronic un/underemployment and intergenerational poverty.

Failing to effectively educate youth of color risks a future majority population that is alienated from society. Projected population demographics indicate that, by 2023 youth of color will make up the majority of children under 18, with Latino minors comprising the largest segment of that population. And the overall white population will reach minority status possibly as early as 2039, but no later than 2050 based on the most conservative estimates.

A potential critical mass of economically dispossessed persons with underdeveloped critical thinking and a lack of advanced trade skills will surely throw this nation into crisis. The impending drain on social services budgets alone would significantly burden state and federal governments and it is doubtful that an aging minority white population would be able to sufficiently pick up the economic slack to maintain a robust economy. This is not a winning formula for a brighter future.

Blind support of a business-modeled reform agenda that prioritizes value-added evaluation of standardized testing performance without addressing institutional learning and discipline disparities will only continue the devaluation of students of color and the disenfranchisement of their right to equal educational opportunity. Education reform that emphasizes an individualized learning process that prepares each student with critical thinking, problem solving, and trade skills is the best possible stimulus investment of public dollars. If we are serious about winning the future, then we must ensure that education reform methods are accountable to the right of equal educational opportunity for all. Educating the most vulnerable of our youth is a smart investment in the future majority population and the long-term vitality of our nation.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

School Bully: Zero Tolerance Discipline Teaches Youth Intolerance

Published on Dignity In Schools (
by Ernest Saadiq Morris

Bullying is a long ignored and persistent problem in American schools. Bullying can have devastating consequences no matter the victim’s sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender, however, it took a recent pandemic of tragic suicides by gay teen bullying victims to finally bring sufficient media attention and public pressure on education officials to dismantle the culture of bullying in schools. As education officials scrambled to respond to the outcry for stronger anti-bullying laws and school policies, the Obama administration recently issued a “Dear Colleague” letter of guidance clarifying how school officials are responsible for countering instances of bullying within their schools.

But the institutional responsibility to prevent bullying is not a breakthrough concept; rather school officials have just been delinquent in their duties and responsibilities. School officials often fail to competently address bullying and allow it to escalate by ignoring the warning signs within the school community. Too often, lackluster and negligent institutional oversight has left school bullies and their victims on their own to either “work it out” or in the continuum of worst case scenarios, “deal with it” through avoidance, submission or retaliatory violence. The public demand for accountability is understandable but calling for a one-size-fits-all zero tolerance punishment that never addresses the underlying issues within the school community is misguided and easily exploited by education officials to justify the zero tolerance school discipline that already exists nationwide, rather than adopting specific anti-bullying methods.

Zero tolerance discipline policies were the status quo in U.S. public schools long before the recent wave of teen suicides. Zero tolerance policies were initially justified as a necessary post-Columbine law enforcement approach to school public safety, but were soon expanded into general enforcement of student behavior compliance. However, these policies are not effective in preventing bullying, because their purpose is not to prevent youth misbehavior by creating a safe school environment but rather to punish youth after a violation has already been committed. Zero tolerance does not employ tangible anti-bullying methodology, rather it only addresses bullying after the fact by the institutionalized practice of forced compliance through fear and retaliation, i.e., bullying. By acting as zero tolerance bullies, school officials contribute to bullying culture by teaching students that there is no compassion or second chances for those judged outside the norm. This teaches youth intolerance of all nonconformity, whether it is based on behavior, culture or group identity.

Furthermore, bullying is often more complicated than the public is led to believe by simplified media coverage. The public perception of bullying is warped and dominated by a few well-publicized tragic events that support the idea that it is simply the strong picking on the weak and vulnerable, this could not be further from the truth. Bullying is often a symptom of multi-layered divisions within a school community between its proverbial haves and have-nots. Many urban schools face internal tension and conflict between individuals and groups based on the economic pressures and competition for lack of resources within their school or surrounding neighborhoods. Likewise, the expansion of zero tolerance discipline created a far bigger crisis than had previously existed from occasional school violence. As evidenced by the recent Southern Poverty Law Center report, Suspended Education, the stigmatizing and pushing out of record numbers of youth –particularly, youth of color– through zero tolerance suspensions and expulsions overwhelmingly based on infractions wholly unrelated to horrific bullying incidents or the general safety of the school community (i.e., tardiness, minor classroom misbehavior and dress code rules) is indeed an epidemic in our nation’s schools. This widespread disenfranchisement of the right to equal educational opportunity of youth of color is undoubtedly a factor in many urban schools contributing to the festering intolerant environment that is a precursor to a bullying environment.

A shift to restorative justice can transform the negative culture of zero tolerance discipline from one of intolerance and forced compliance by fear to a responsible education goal of productive behavior within a tolerant community. Restorative justice seeks to actually resolve conflict by teaching youth that they are responsible for making the victim whole. By teaching skills to resolve conflict, restorative justice can transform the negative dynamic between individuals and with time the community to which they belong, as more U.S. school districts are discovering. Public education can fulfill its traditional social mission of producing responsible community members by teaching responsibility and accountability for personal behavior and allowing for learned positive behavior within the school community, instead of forced behavior compliance from fear of negative consequences only.

Zero tolerance discipline does not fundamentally change behavior and it does not transform negative school culture to positive. A school community rightfully concerned about bullying cannot settle for the zero tolerance status quo, offered as mere window dressing, that requires no effort from school officials already delinquent in their institutional anti-bullying responsibility. Education officials should not be allowed to use recent bullying tragedies as a shield to continue their own zero tolerance bullying in the name of a corporate-industrial education model that separates the weakest youth from the herd, stigmatizes them, and casts them aside. It is time for a cultural shift in our schools to an environment of tolerance and accountability for youth and educators alike. We must use this ideal window of opportunity to urge school districts to transform the negative zero (in)tolerance culture permeating our schools with restorative justice principles to foster a new culture of tolerance and community-building –with educational and cultural equality for all.

* Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights & liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.


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Saturday, August 24, 2013 – Urban Youth Justice’s Ernest Saadiq Morris to present Racial Justice as an Educational Right workshop at Seattle Race Conference

Seattle Race Conference 2013 Program
Urban Youth Justice Director Ernest Saadiq Morris will conduct a school equity workshop at the Seattle Race Conference on Saturday, August 24, 2013.

This exciting interactive Urban Youth Justice workshop will focus on racial justice strategies to ensure an inclusive youth program that empowers the diverse student populations that are increasingly common in our communities.

Still Not Post-Racial: Dismantling Structural Racism and Cultural Bias in School, Racial Justice as an Educational Right
We will examine Racial Equity challenges presented by diverse student populations of the present and foreseeable future. Also, how to advocate for Racial Justice in School as a crucial intervention to educational opportunity gap inequity reflected in K-12 discipline and dropout rates.

Urban Youth Justice Director Ernest Saadiq Morris appointed co-Chair of Education subcommittee by American Bar Association Children’s Rights Litigation Committee

Ernest Saadiq Morris has  been appointed co-chair of the Education Subcommittee  of the American Bar Association Children’s Rights Litigation Committee.

He will be responsible for advancing the work of the Educational Civil Rights Accountability Project.  The Educational Civil Rights Accountability Project will promote vigorous enforcement of education rights by legal advocates and the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice.

Urban Youth Justice podcast: The Color of Education – “Teaching in the School to Prison Pipeline” – feat. Jose Vilson NYC public school teacher, education activist and TEDxNYED speaker – Full Interview

“Teaching in the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Strategies to Empower Youth” featuring New York City public school teacher, education activist and TEDxNYED speaker Jose Vilson.

Urban Youth Justice Director Ernest Saadiq Morris talks to Jose Vilson about his unique perspective as a Black-Latino male teacher and youth advocate regarding the obstacles facing students of color in achieving a quality education while avoiding and overcoming the traps of the school-to-prison pipeline (e.g., education inequality, school discipline, etc.); and shares his strategies to empower students.