A few months ago a ninth grade student told me, "I don’t even know what a real school feels like. My school feels and looks like a prison."

In the last 20 years schools and schools climates have adopted harsh disciplinary policies. These policies commonly referred to as zero-tolerance policies have resulted in the excessive and unnecessary rise of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests children for minor rule infractions or age appropriate behavior that children have always displayed.

As a result, when you walk into an American school today you may not see new computers, books, toilet paper in bathrooms or the number of counselors or teachers needed. Instead, you’ll probably see metal detectors, scanners, surveillance cameras, students being searched, drug dogs, police officers, or solitary confinement units.

Read the ACLU of Ohio’s testimony in support of commonsense school discipline policies.

In Ohio, legislators are considering Senate Bill 167, a bill that would amend these draconian disciplinary policies that force the removal of children from schools for minor infractions. The ACLU of Ohio is weighing in on this bill and we encourage you to do the same.

Meanwhile, zero-tolerance policies have become such a national problem that the federal government was finally forced to act.

Last week the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education issued some guidelines regarding zero tolerance policies. These guidelines instruct school districts to:

  • Apply discipline in a fair and equitable manner
  • Prioritize evidence based practices that promote positive student behavior
  • Eliminate the involvement of law enforcement in minor school incidents
  • Follow federal civil rights law

It is unfortunate that the same punitive zero-tolerance model that produced the largest prison system in the world by treating minor offenses like major crimes has also found its way into our schools.

A significant portion of those incarcerated in our jails and prisons have been convicted of a low-level, non-violent offense. Similarly, more than half of all suspensions in Ohio schools are for disobedient or disruptive behavior.

The zero tolerance model adopted by our criminal justice and educational systems are pushing people of color out of school and towards the margins of society.

Data released last week from Office of Civil Rights Data Collection reflects that:

  • African-American students represent 15% of students, but make up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of those suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled
  • 50% of students who were involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American

The Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 67% of inmates in state prisons have not graduated from high school and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections indicates that 80% of those in Ohio prisons do not have a high school diploma.

This is not a coincidence! There is a strong relationship between lack of educational attainment and likelihood of arrest.

The ACLU of Ohio applauds the historic move made by the federal government and we urge Ohio to lead the way and put an end to excessively punitive school discipline.

Let’s develop policies that keep children in school, support learning, critical thinking, accountability, and fairness and let’s stop training them for prison!

Remember that it takes a village to raise a child.

What can you do?

Share the guidelines issued by the federal government with your school district.

Read the blog, Is Race Discrimination in School Discipline a Real Problem?, written by Deborah J. Vagins of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lea el blog, ¿Es la discriminación racial un problema real en la administración de la disciplina escolar? escrito por Deborah J. Vagins de la Washington Oficina Legislativa de la Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles.