School-to-Prison-Pipeline Scholarship Roundup

Anne King

Christopher Emdin’s thoughtful recent piece on arrests in public schools inspired me to put together a roundup of recent scholarship on the school-to-prison pipeline.   All of these pieces are sobering reads, but the authors offer concrete ideas for how we can begin to dismantle the pipeline

Sarah Jane Forman focuses on school search and seizure in Countering Criminalization: Toward a Youth Development Approach to School Searches, in the Fall 2011 issue of The Scholar (St. Mary’s). (A work-in-progress version is available on SSRN.) Forman makes the point that, because public schools play a critical role in socialization and citizenship education, school discipline itself is an experience through which children learn social norms. Unfortunately, Forman writes, the police or police-like presence in our schools – especially inner city high schools with minority student bodies – “perpetuates the social norms that criminalize youth.” Forman argues that current search and seizure practices are “developmentally inappropriate” for highly impressionable adolescents, and advocates for a “positive youth development approach” to school discipline. Currently, the legal standard for school searches is reasonable suspicion, under T.L.O v. New Jersey. But, Forman suggests, if we accounted for youths’ interest in positive development when assessing the reasonableness of a search or seizure, the standard would necessarily elevate to probable cause.

India Geronimo’s Deconstructing the Marginalization of “Underclass” Students: Disciplinary Alternative Education, in the University of Toledo Law Review’s Winter 2011 issue, highlights the problem of disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP); that is, placements outside mainstream schools for students deemed to have disciplinary problems. Geronimo explains some of the incentives that lead school administrators to rely heavily on DAEP as punishment, including test score pressure, a perceived easy fix to disciplinary issues, and a desire to appear authoritative or “tough.” Geronimo also offers a legal framework for ensuring accountability in DAEP’s, suggesting that advocates might mount 1) educational adequacy challenges under state statutory and constitutional law; 2) due process challenges to DAEP placement procedures, based on either a deprivation of students’ reputational interests or state law property interests in education; 3) Fourth Amendment challenges to searches and seizures in the DAEP context.

Patrick Metze also examines DAEP’s in The Demise of DAEP: Plugging the School to Prison Pipeline by Addressing Cultural Racism in Public Education Discipline, which is forthcoming in the Journal of Juvenile Law & Policy.  He argues that Texas should cease using DAEP’s as part of its school discipline system, because DAEP’s prison-like atmosphere perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline, and because minority youth and youth with special needs disproportionately receive DAEP assignments.  Instead, he argues Texas schools should implement alternatives to zero-tolerance discipline, such as “positive behavioral intervention and support” programs.


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