By Lawyers’ Committee staff
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) applauds Senator Richard J. Durbin for convening the important hearing “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline” before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on December 12. This hearing will expose the deep inequality in disciplinary practices plaguing our public schools and its damaging effects on our youth.
The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the practice of pushing students out of the classroom and into the justice system through use of harsh exclusionary discipline policies. Within the past two decades, many schools have increased their reliance on law enforcement officers and exclusionary policies, such as out-of-school suspension and expulsion, as a means of reducing school disruption.
As a result, too many of our most vulnerable youth find themselves excluded from the classroom setting, arrested, and/or referred to juvenile court for what might be viewed as common misbehavior. Overrepresentation of students of color and those with disabilities in the pipeline render this a serious civil rights issue.
“The school-to-prison pipeline perpetuates the indefensible pattern of incarceration within communities of color, and we urge Congress to take deliberate and forceful action to put a stop to these discriminatory school policies,” said Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Barbara R. Arnwine. However, despite research confirming that students of color are no more likely to commit offenses requiring removal from school than their White peers, there continues to be strong evidence of disparities in school exclusion for students of color.
Black students are over three-and-a-half times
more likely to be suspended or
expelled than their White peers.
In particular, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black students are over three-and-a-half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers, and students with disabilities are over twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as their peers in general education. Additionally, over 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Black or Hispanic.
“We cannot perpetuate the belief that anyone can rise above his or her circumstances regardless of race while simultaneously excluding our most vulnerable youth from an equal opportunity to receive an education,” said Brenda Shum, director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Educational Opportunities Project. Not only do these school policies create racial division in the receipt of vital instructional classroom time, these policies have not been proven to have positive effects on learning or the school environment.
Moreover, there are alternative forms of addressing misbehavior, such as positive behavior supports, that are less discriminatory and have proven to have tremendous success in schools across the country. Lawyers’ Committee Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House urges, “We must put a stop to this pernicious practice of excluding our boys and girls of color from the classroom and funneling them into the justice system.”
In order to combat the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure equal educational opportunities for all children, the Lawyers’ Committee advocates that federal education reform do the following:
• Permit the use of ESEA Title I funds to implement school-wide positive behavior supports.
• Prohibit ESEA funding for exclusionary discipline measures.
• Improve accountability by mandating inclusion of school discipline data in ESEA state Report Cards.
This information was provided by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.
To access the Lawyers’ Committee’s full testimony or for more information about LCCRUL, go to www.lawyerscommittee.org.