Excerpted From: Tara Carone, The School to Prison Pipeline: Widespread Disparities in School Discipline Based on Race, 2 Public Interest Law Reporter 137 (Spring, 2019) (150 Footnotes) (Full Document Not Available)
The Great Equalizer. The Passport to the Future. The key to unlocking the door to the American dream. All of these catchphrases are suggestive of a longstanding American belief: that education allows people of all backgrounds to dramatically improve their situation in life. However, today and throughout history, an extraordinary amount of discrimination and inequality in the educational system has created terrible barriers for minority groups to overcome. One of these barriers is a disturbing national trend wherein children, specifically children of color, are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The funnel is two-fold: students being placed in juvenile or criminal courts due to a school incident, and students who have dropped out of school or have been kicked out of school, oftentimes ending up in the juvenile or criminal court systems down the road. Together, the phenomena has come to be known as “the school-to-prison pipeline.”
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Dialogue surrounding the statistics and the true effects of discriminatory discipline practices in schools needs to continue in order to inform the public. Legislative and executive support for fixing the school-to-prison pipeline may or may not continue. It is time for the judiciary to step in and protect the civil rights of students within our schools before they are removed from schools and sent into the juvenile or criminal justice system. Justice Lucero's concurrence in Hawker v. Sandy City Corp., a 2014 Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals case, sets forth the change the judiciary needs to take in changing the effects of the school-to-prison pipeline. He states, “The criminal punishment of young schoolchildren leaves permanent scars and unresolved anger, and its far-reaching impact on the abilities of these children to lead future prosperous and productive lives should be a matter of grave concern for us all.” Justice Lucero recognizes that the legislature and early and positive intervention by family and educators will best realign an elementary school child's errant behavior and most likely lead to a productive life. However, Justice Lucero also notes that present jurisprudence is sending the wrong message to schools, making it far too easy for educators to delegate and shift the disciplinary responsibility from them to the police and courts. As Brown v. Board of Education stated sixty-five years ago, and which still rings true today, “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.” As Brown taught us, the judiciary can be an essential tool in ameliorating the barriers to education for our children and grandchildren.