How can schools redirect their disciplinary policies away from the criminal justice system?

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Schools are handed a tremendous amount of responsibility and opportunity with the students they are responsible for. The hours that a student spends in school dictate how they will contribute to the world in the future. For this reason, it is imperative that schools support students to the best of their abilities. Through my research, I have found that zero-tolerance policies and the school-to-prison pipeline hinder schools from best supporting their students. My personal interest in the matter resides in the fact that I believe every person is entitled to a fair and just education. Throughout 2020 and 2021 there has been a rise in awareness surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and discrimination that POC face. Even still, the discrimination and injustices faced by POC within schools are seldom acknowledged. To learn more about my personal interest click here.

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Cartoon of School to Prison Pipeline (Works Cited and Consulted)

A Brief Informative Video


Disciplinary measures taken within American public schools have adapted immensely. Until the late 20th century, corporal punishment was the primary form of discipline used within schools. Once issues of the ethics of corporal punishment arose, schools adapted and began suspending and expelling their students. These suspensions and expulsions occurred without trial until the 1975 Goss vs. Lopez case in which high school and junior high school students were suspended for ten days without trial. The school’s decision was considered a violation of the students’ rights and was appealed to the Supreme Court. With a five to four majority, the supreme court came to the conclusion that a student should not be suspended or expelled without trial or at least notice. Goss vs. Lopez resulted in a shift to in-school suspension. This proved effective until a rise in youth criminal activity in the 80’s caused pressured educators to be tougher with students. The pressure to buckle down on students in addition to an increase in juvenile criminal activity resulted in the creation of zero-tolerance policies. Starting in 1994 with the Gun-Free Schools Act, zero-tolerance policies turned into an integral aspect of student discipline. Although the goal of the act -along with many other zero-tolerance policies- was to make schools safer, they actually placed many young people at a higher risk of ending up within the criminal justice system. These policies mandated the suspension or expulsion of students from school on account of particular infractions. To learn more about the history of the school-to-prison pipeline and zero tolerance click here.


Over time the spectrum of particular infractions expanded as schools began creating zero-tolerance policies for non-threatening behavior. Due to the fact that students are removed from their school environment, zero-tolerance policies cause students to fall behind in school and place them at a higher threat of not graduating high school or ending up within the juvenile justice system. Students who end up within the juvenile system as a result of school punishment are victims of a system referred to as the School to Prison Pipeline. Due to racial injustices and biases that exist within education and the justice system, it is imperative to view the School to Prison Pipeline as an issue of inequity. Students of color are disproportionately impacted by the pipeline. In Miami Dade, Florida, students of color make up twenty percent of the student population; however, they account for more than half of the student arrests issued. To learn more about the problem today click here.

Works Cited and Consulted

What is Being Done Now?

Power U Center For Change is an organization that is seeking to put an end to the School to Prison Pipeline by working with students in schools. Proposing a restorative approach to disciplining students rather than a retributive approach, Power U empowers youth to take initiative within their schools. A youth committee in Power U is currently fighting for communities to have a say in the Miami Dade Public Schools district’s allocation of funds. They also suggest that schools invest in mental health professionals on campus, higher pay for teachers, and increased opportunities for youth engagement. 

Learn more about Power U and donate here

What Can You Do?

For members of school communities 

  1. Speak up within schools 
  2. Educate yourself about your school’s disciplinary policies 
  3. Being an active member of student groups aimed at supporting students (Affinity Groups etc.)

For nonmembers of school communities

  1. Educating yourself about the problem
  2. Spreading awareness
  3. Support Organizations (like Power U)
Macro Solutions

Macro Solutions 

  1. U.S government ban zero-tolerance policies in all schools 
  2. Following this legislation schools should rethink all of their disciplinary policies 
  3. Possibly go through this process with students 
  4. District funds allocated towards:
    1. Mental health professionals in schools 
    2. Student resources (opportunities for community engagement) 
  5. Districts and Counties collaborate with local police to create guidelines for disciplinary action 

Thank you so much for visiting my web page! Please feel free to leave feedback below. I am especially interested in what other ways you all think we on an individual level can contribute to equitable education for all youth.



Student at Head-Royce School, Oakland, CA USA.

1 comment

  1. Meley,

    Good research. It is apparent that zero-tolerance policies in all schools are incredibly biased against students of color, specifically young men of color. When writing about PowerU, you mentioned that they suggest that schools invest in mental health professionals on campus, which I completely agree with. However, many schools would be reluctant to remove their zero-tolerance policies because they see it as a need for disciplinary action. For situations that are not related to mental health, what recommendations would you make to schools to discipline students in an unbiased way. Additionally, would you say that a factor in the bias against men of color is due to an underdiagnosis of mental illness?


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