Does suspending misbehaving students—or sending them to alternative schools —set them on the path to prison?
That question is at the heart of a new report, Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline: Dropout to Incarceration, The Impact of School Discipline and Zero Tolerance, published by Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit public interest law center.
The title is overdramatic. But the conclusions are worthy of reflection: “The precursor for many young people’s involvement in the juvenile justice system [or prison] is disciplinary referrals in schools.”
That’s not to suggest that school officials allow students to run amok in the classroom. Nor does anyone suggest school suspensions are responsible for students turning down the path of crime and incarceration later in life.
What the report does suggest is that local schools must be thoughtful in their approach to discipline. Taking a hard line with students—with zero tolerance and harsh penalties—actually is counterproductive, undermining school climate and, instead of discouraging misbehavior, actually can encourage more misbehavior among rebellious youth.
Fact is, some school officials are too eager to crack the whip. Something is wrong when some schools are six times as likely as neighboring schools to suspend students or send them to an alternative education program.
Although the report lists numerous strategies for improving your school district’s disciplinary practices, its real value to local school policymakers is more basic: It reminds you that schools exist to help students.
And that help is needed right now. If all your schools do is punish misbehaving students —harshly and with no consideration to the reasons behind such misbehavior—then your schools aren’t really solving the underlying problem. And if a student ends up in an escalating cycle of misbehavior and punishment, then there is an increasing likelihood that imprisonment lies in that young person’s future.
The report can be found at www.texasappleseed.net.
Del Stover, Senior Editor