New York Law School

Criminalization over Education: The Disproportionate Enforcement of Truancy Punishments and Suspensions on Low-Income and Black Youth

Around the country school systems have criminalized truancy, encouraging their counties to penalize students that miss too many days of school with fines, court fees, and in some cases even charging them, their parents, or their guardians with misdemeanors and pursuing jail time. These punishments often put an already struggling low-income family in an even deeper economic hole. Additionally, many school systems are attempting to remedy their student’s minor behavioral issues with out-of-school suspensions. This removal from the classroom causes students to miss out on valuable instructional time, resulting in students lagging behind their classmates due to a lack of understanding for the materials covered during their suspensions. Furthermore, a substantial amount of these suspensions are being sought for even the most inconsequential of incidents and school infractions. However, these truancy punishments and out-of-school suspensions are being pursued and enforced disproportionately against low-income and Black children with absolutely no regard for the long-term consequences of these actions.

The disproportionate enforcement of harsh disciplinary measures against low-income and Black youth is ground zero for what has been called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The ACLU defines the school-to-prison pipeline as ”…policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education.” In order to reverse this trend, school systems must come to the realization that truancy and behavioral issues can be symptoms of more serious problems, rather than simple rebelliousness. In addition to being signs of a larger problem, much of this behavior is often age-appropriate, but deemed punishable due to racial discrimination. Read more

Obama’s Plan To Reform The School To Prison Pipeline And Return Students to Classrooms

On January 24th, 2014 a fifteen-year old boy from Wake, North Carolina was handcuffed by a security guard for skipping the lunch line at his high school. While the innocent action likely could have been resolved with a verbal admonishment, the incident escalated when the security guard approached the teen, twisted his arm, pushed him against the wall and led him out of the cafeteria in handcuffs. In addition to the assault, the student was subsequently suspended for three days . Incidents like this are extreme examples of a growing, disturbing national trend called the school to prison pipeline. Many consider the school to prison pipeline an intentional and conscious attempt by school administrators to funnel “troublesome” students out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

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Black, Low-Income and Special Needs Students Pushed Out through Suspensions and Arrests, NYCLU Analysis Finds

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education held that equal access to public education is essential to the progress of a democratic nation. By law, race could no longer be used to exclude children from school. Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity has never been fully realized in New York City. It continues to be impeded by harsh disciplinary and school safety policies that disproportionately exclude low-income students, black students, Latino students and students with disabilities from classrooms. As a result, these students are denied Brown’s guarantee of equal access to an education, adding to their greater risk of being pushed through the school-to-prison pipeline (STPP).

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