In December the U.S. Senate held hearings on ending the “School to Prison Pipeline.” As discussed previously in this blog and elsewhere, the “school to prison pipeline” refers to exclusionary disciplinary practices (e.g., suspension, expulsions, or even arrests) resulting from blind adherence to zero tolerance policies, which critics harshly state criminalize otherwise normal behavior and are disproportionately used on minority and special needs students. African American males are 3 ½ times more likely to be suspended or expelled than are their white peers, and students with special needs are twice as likely to be suspended or expelled than are their non-disabled peers. The Senate hearings, which were held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights and chaired by Senator Dick Durbin, were the first ever held to address the overall question of school discipline and how it has gone so terribly wrong. But perhaps more importantly, the hearings discussed what needs to happen to “plug” the pipeline.
So how many students are being suspended or expelled? According to data collected by the Civil Rights Project and released last March, 3 million students were suspended from our nation’s schools in 2009-2010. As graphically illustrated in the report, “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School” and discussed in a previous blog, this is enough students to fill every seat at every major league ball park and NFL stadium in the country. And for many of these students, suspensions or expulsions may be their entry into the school to prison pipeline. According to a Texas study, students who are expelled or suspended are three times more likely to become involved with the juvenile justice system within the year.