This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Unruly students have always been given punishments. But zero-tolerance policies and other harsh punitive practices now employed to keep students in line are considered by many to border on the draconian. Such measures, they argue, adversely affect at-risk and minority children, carving a direct route from school to prison.
Today, for the first time, the U.S. Senate will weigh in on the topic of the school-to-prison pipeline. This afternoon’s hearing, to be held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, will address, among other things, the alarming incidence of suspensions for minor offenses, restorative justice practices, and ways to end the pipeline.
Calling for a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions, the Dignity in Schools Campaign, represented by Chicago-based youth organizer Edward Ward, will testify about the links that have been established between the exclusionary discipline of students and the increase in dropouts, grade retention, and involvement in juvenile and criminal justice systems. Earlier this year, the human rights group released a set of policy recommendations and guidelines to help end school pushouts.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also submitted a statement to the committee. Detailing the progress that the ACLU is making on the school-to-prison pipeline in various states, the group scrutinizes the reliance on excessive punishment and prescribes reform measures that will help to reduce what it sees as discriminatory practices.