Criminalization at School: Zero-Tolerance Discipline Policies Might Be Damaging to Students

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A science teacher in Mississippi asked her students to take a picture with their completed DNA Lego model. John Doe took his picture with a smile and a hand gesture in which his thumb, index, and middle finger was raised. This was enough to earn him an indefinite suspension with a recommendation for expulsion because his school administrators believed he flashed a gang sign although he was simply putting up three fingers to represent his football jersey number. (NPR Isensee, 2014). This kind of criminalization of young people contributes to suspension, dropout, and incarceration, and too often pushes students into what is referred to by many education scholars and activists as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a term that refers to “the 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 systems” (ACLU 2013). The School-to-Prison Pipeline is one of the most urgent challenges in education today. This paper will focus on the following circumstances and policies contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline: 1) resource deprived schools, 2) high-stake testing and 3) zero-tolerance discipline policies. However, it is important to note that the school-to-prison pipeline is a broad problem not limited to these three components and has been influenced by historical inequities (segregated education), concentrated poverty, and racial disparities in law enforcement (NAACP,…