The Department of Justice issued new guidance Wednesday aimed at curbing harsh, discriminatory over-punishment of school discipline violations. The materials disseminated with the Department of Education aim to increase legal compliance after DOJ filed several lawsuits against cities that dole out criminal punishment to students for violations as minor as dress code violations.
“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” US Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.
These policies have trapped students in what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline, which funnels students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. This pipeline has had a dramatic disproportionate impact on black students with disabilities. Fueling this trend are “zero tolerance” policies that impose harsh punishment for minor violations, and oftentimes remove school officials’ discretion. In some states such as Michigan, zero tolerance is mandated by a state law. The DOJ’s announcement is supported by reports and research that paint a picture of perverse, counter-productive school disciplinary policy: