Zero tolerance policies are harsh disciplinary policies that contribute to the School-to-Prison Pipeline by criminalizing students and pushing them out of school. The “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the policies and practices that push students, especially at-risk students, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
The Advocacy Action Team is working to address school disciplinary policies such as suspensions and expulsions, and its disproportionate impact on students of color. Currently, we are reviewing Madison Metropolitan School District’s code of conduct policies and comparing it to more effective policies from around the country such as the Model Code on Education and Dignity. Our hope is to promote greater community awareness on the harsh impact of discipline policies on students of color and low-income students in the Madison School District. We are also continuing our work with the YWCA’s Restorative Justice Program in promoting policies that would eliminate school pushout and protect the student rights to a quality education.
Why focus on Zero Tolerance Policies?
- The “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the policies and practices that push students, especially at-risk students, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
- Zero-tolerance policies automatically impose severe punishment on students regardless of individual circumstances. Under these policies, students have been expelled for nonviolent and minor offenses including tardiness, dress code infractions, leaving the classroom without a pass.
- Suspensions and expulsions often leave students unsupervised and without constructive activities which can further impact their academic success. Students can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and school drop-outs.
- Students who enter the school-to-prison pipeline find themselves in juvenile detention facilities with limited access to quality educational services. It becomes even more difficult for the vast majority of these students to re-enter traditional schools and eventually graduate from high school.
- Students with disabilities and students of color, especially African American and Latino students, are far more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for similar conduct at school. This further increases the disproportionality that already exists within the juvenile justice system.