By Amanda Odorimah, CFCC Student Fellow 2015-2016
At the beginning of this semester, I enrolled in the CFCC Student Fellows Program hoping to have an opportunity to help children and families involved with the court system. Having spent the past few years working in the classroom, I saw students who fell victim to problems such as multiple suspensions, grade retention, and expulsion. I became acutely aware of the need to address the way that schools handle student misconduct.
Now that I am a little further into my fellowship journey, I have gained a more in-depth understanding of the far-reaching devastation that takes place when schools are not adequately trained and prepared to address the underlying issues that may lead to a student’s misbehavior in the classroom. When students misbehave, they are often sent out of the classroom and/or suspended for short periods of time. Unfortunately, students can’t learn when they are not in class. In a 2005 publication entitled, Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline, researchers said, “[T]aking children out of school for even a few days disrupts their education and often escalates poor behavior by removing them from a structured environment and giving them increased time and opportunity to get into trouble.” How does missing a few days of school lead to potential incarceration? This question is best answered by understanding the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
What is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said the School-to-Prison-Pipeline is created by policies that “push children out of school and hasten their entry into the juvenile, and eventually the criminal, justice system, where prison is the end of the road.” For example, if a school policy blindly requires any student who physically assaults another student to be suspended, a second grade child would be suspended from school for pushing a classmate during recess. Rather than addressing the causes behind the inappropriate behavior, the student would be suspended from school. This approach would remove the student from the learning environment and would leave the student at a disadvantage upon returning to school. On the other hand, if the school has a discipline policy geared at correcting behavior, the student may have received a reprimand less stigmatizing and harmful than suspension.
One School System’s Approach to Addressing the Problem
The Maryland State Board of Education is requiring its local school boards to develop school discipline policies that focus on keeping children connected to school and education. Student suspension and/or expulsion are to be a last resort. It will be interesting to see what approach the various school boards develop.
If you were asked to help develop discipline policies for one of the local school boards, what approach would you suggest?
NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline (October 10, 2005),
 The Washington Post, Maryland School Board Approves New Discipline Regulations (January 28, 2014),