December 6, 2017

End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The Oct. 18 article entitled “Race and Politics on the Clarke County School Board” brought to light a disturbing discrepancy within the Clarke County school system: African-American students are disciplined more harshly and performing significantly more poorly than Caucasian students. This discrepancy brings attention to the reality of the school-to-prison pipeline.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a metaphor to represent the process by which minority students, particularly African-American students, are funneled from schools into the criminal justice system. The phenomenon began due to zero-tolerance policies, created in the 1990s, developed to provide a safer environment for learning. These policies allow for harsher punishments, like out-of-school suspension, when school violations occur. While the initial purpose of this policy was to suspend students bringing a dangerous weapon like a gun or knife to school, the policy was later expanded to include relatively minor school violations as well. It was believed that by punishing minor school violations harshly, students would be less likely to engage in risky behavior or more serious offenses. While these policies were designed to affect all students equally, we are seeing a substantial number of minorities, particularly African Americans, affected more frequently. Therefore, school policies are perpetuating a system that tolerates unequal discipline to students, which is in turn increasing the probability of African-American students entering the criminal justice system.

This is a complex dilemma that will require a multifaceted solution. However, one layer of this solution can be to provide more cultural awareness training, particularly about the African-American experience. By bringing awareness to minority experiences, school administration and staff can become more conscious of their behaviors as they relate to diverse students, and thereby allow for more culturally sensitive instruction and discipline.