Schools Acknowledge Their Role in School-to-Prison Pipeline With Policy Changes

One of the byproducts of zero tolerance policies in schools is increased punishment for minor misbehavior. While it is understandable to suspend or expel a student for bringing a weapon to school, it makes little sense to do the same when young children are playing cops and robbers, with their fingers in the shape of a gun. Yet, this is exactly what has happened for nearly two decades.

Now, more school districts are seeing the error of their ways and reversing course to a more reasonable approach to discipline.

A fearful response to high profile school shootings has catapulted the growth of these overly restrictive policies. However, overcrowding and budget cuts have also created a powder keg of hostility in many schools. Combined with overworked teachers and limited resources, the “one strike and you’re out” approach to any misbehavior may seem like the best option for an overloaded system.

Instead, these policies have pushed more vulnerable students out of school, often permanently, and into a future where the odds are against them. Furthermore, children with special needs and students of color are statistically more likely to receive the harshest punishment, including the involvement of law enforcement and entry into the criminal justice system.

For tens of thousands of children and teens, this is their first stop on what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

With numerous studies showing that these policies increase the chances of these students growing into adults stuck within the criminal justice system – especially if they’re poor and black or brown – activists and frustrated parents have pressured schools to make changes.

The result has been to return to the basics. Schools are using in-house disciplinary techniques, such as detention. In the case of fights, they are using restorative justice techniques, which involves engaging the aggressor and victim in conflict resolution which are aimed at providing healing and understanding and, hopefully, no further incidences.

There is also a push for schools to recognize the effects of trauma, especially for students that live in violent areas, on academic performance and behavior.

Changes have also been made in terms of what is considered an infraction. In 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first school district in the state to end suspensions for what was labeled “willful defiance.” In short, anytime a student refused a teacher’s instruction, such as putting away a cell phone, students risked being suspended. Oakland, Calif., schools will also end willful defiance suspensions this year.

The change in policy was in response to a California Department of Education study found that half of the nearly 700,000 suspensions in 2011-2012 were for what amounts to typical student defiance. LAUSD also had the highest number of suspensions in the state. California has also ended all suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade.

In addition to fewer suspensions, these policies are resulting in fewer arrests. The restorative justice techniques combined with positive behavioral support has reduced arrests rates, as well as violations of serious offenses that still fall under a zero tolerance policy.

A school district in Jacksonville, Fla., has seen their on-campus arrests go down 39 percent in the first 100 days of this school year when compared to the previous years. There has also been a 44 percent reduction in the number of zero tolerance infractions.

Yet, there are still thousands of students trapped in school districts that refuse to budge. Schools still have police officers on campus, often armed, and outsource disciplinary problems to them. It took a class action lawsuit against the City of Meridian and the state of Mississippi to end the practice of arresting minors for school offenses.

Still, it is up to teachers and school officials and parents – the adults in this situations – to take responsibility in helping students navigate the confusing time of growing up while in school.

Rewarding positive behavior, teaching conflict resolution, and using less punitive responses to what often amounts to typical child and teenage behavior not only makes the school environment less stressful, but helps create healthier adults and a stronger community.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

32 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Joon m.
Past Member about a year ago

Awesome work! That is quite appreciated. I hope you’ll get more success.college essay writers for pay

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Marc P.
Marc P1 years ago

S Gardner: Please substantiate your claim, "FUTURE CRIMINAL HAS ALREADY DROPPED OUT AND THEN HE GOES INSIDE SAN QUINTON AND IS OFFERED A CHOICE OF 8 UNIVERSITIES, ALL FREE." And list those 'free' universities for us.

R

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S Gardner
sandy Gardner1 years ago

I AM GLAD OF THIS PROGRAM. IT SEEMS WE ARE RAISING THE UNDERPRIVLEGED WITH HEALTHY SCHOOLS SUSIDIZED LUNCHEONS , WE HAVE FREE HIGH SCHOOLS BUT THE FUTURE CRIMINAL HAS ALREADY DROPPED OUT AND THEN HE GOES INSIDE SAN QUINTON AND IS OFFERED A CHOICE OF 8 UNIVERSITIES, ALL FREE. SOMETHING IS WRONG,

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Cela V.
Cela V1 years ago

tyfs

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Jax L.

Great article! Thank you!

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Jax L.

Great article! Thank you!

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Fi T.
Past Member 1 years ago

Nurture the wise

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Marc P.
Marc P1 years ago

Do you know what the definition is of an adult who suspends a child for biting toast into the shape of a gun, or making a "Gun" out of his or her fingers, or wearing an item of clothing that has an 'offensive' logo on it etc. etc.? That definition is BULLY!

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Marc P.
Marc P1 years ago

How about we just FIRE the jackasses that suspend children for biting a piece of toast into "the shape of a gun."? Fire them. Publicly shame them, and ensure they NEVER work around kids again!

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