The school-to-prison pipeline is a national issue that continues to impact students, specifically students of color. With the increase in police presence in schools as school resource officers (SROs), there is more direct access to the pipeline, increasing the number of suspensions and arrests. According to a report by the American Bar Association, Black students are 2.2 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest as white students. There remains a large discrepancy between students of color and their white peers in terms of discipline and treatment.
Within the country in recent years, there is an increase in police presence, especially in schools. This further fuels the problem, leading to an even larger gap between student needs and administration. Instead of working with students on how to manage the problem or understanding what the problem is, it worsens the situation itself, leading to increased consequences, such as suspension or expulsion. Specifically, students of color can be labeled with a learning disability if they are considered disruptive in class and are more than twice as likely to be suspended than other students without a disability according to the Virginia Law Review. Other alternatives are not considered when managing students with behavioral challenges, such as restorative justice or other educational programs to inform employees of best practices in working with students.
I have seen this throughout my experience in schools, both attending and working in them. Students of color, specifically Black students, are seen as problematic and aggressive and automatically given detention or other types of punishment. Administrators are not listening and understanding the inherent problem and assume the worst or eliminate the disruption altogether.
However, I have seen effective ways of addressing the problem by utilizing resources, such as social workers and counselors, to enter the conversation and provide solutions. This adds professionals who are trained in de-escalation and other educational skills to work with students, not against them. Allocating more funding and resources toward educational programs and hiring more trained professionals reduces the number of students funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline.
Sydney Carlin is a social work graduate student at the University of St. Thomas.