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date: 12 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Among the core values of a democratic system is that children and youth, whatever their background, should have an equal opportunity to become responsible, productive, and successful members of society. In moderation, exclusionary school discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, may support this value by helping schools to preserve safe and orderly learning environments. In excess and when applied more frequently to students of color, however, removing students from the classroom undermines equal educational opportunity. This chapter explains how the rights that federal antidiscrimination law creates for students are poorly suited to protect them from the excessive and inequitable use of exclusionary discipline embodied in what is frequently referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” It first introduces and defines the school-to-prison pipeline with respect to its central characteristics related to school discipline. The chapter then reviews the scope of the basic sources of federal antidiscrimination law and identifies the limited circumstances in which they prohibit use of exclusionary discipline. Third, it summarizes the results of empirical research investigating the primary causes of racial disparities in exclusionary school discipline. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how federal law does not support or advance the value of equal education opportunity in this context because it fails to account for or address the major causes of excessive and inequitable exclusionary discipline, and with some thoughts about moving forward.

Keywords: School-to-prison pipeline, Antidiscriminaton law, Exclusionary discipline, Suspension, Expulsion, Due Process Clause, Equal Protection Clause, Title VI, Disparate impact, Education law

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