St. Thomas Law Review

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When it comes to challenging school disciplinary policies that have an especially disparate and negative impact on students of color and students with disabilities, courts cannot be the sole or final arbiter for addressing this serious problem. Rather than acting as a discouraging force, courts routinely uphold these disruptive school disciplinary policies and end up being a major conduit in the "School-to-Prison Pipeline" (STPP). The STPP refers to the phenomenon of over-disciplining minors, which in turn results in their suspension, expulsion, and in some cases, incarceration. With limited exceptions, the cases that parents have brought on behalf of their children to challenge these controversial and disruptive school disciplinary polices have been woefully unsuccessful. State and federal laws, at least on paper, create avenues of relief, but the remedies that parents of pipelined children seek remain illusory. Too often courts devalue the pipelined children's experiences by solely viewing them as isolated and unrelated incidents as opposed to being emblematic of an ongoing acceptance of police brutality and violence against certain children. Moving away slightly from the legal side of the STPP, it is helpful to examine the school setting where discipline has become problematic. Inevitably, school teachers and administrators often face serious difficulties when addressing the particular learning styles and behavior concerns of children who might exhibit signs related to their intellectual disabilities or emotional problems that are arguably disruptive. School leaders and classroom teachers should and must address disorderly conduct. Yet all disciplinary actions or interventions should encourage students to be accountable for their misbehaviors and poor decision-making. Helping students develop greater insight and better understanding about the connection between the attitudes they display, the behaviors they engage in, and the consequences they face can have a direct impact on their educational achievement and social progress. Therefore, the goal of this Article is to present an integrated approach through policy and legal and pedagogical solutions to dismantling the STPP to advance the educative process and personal development of all youth.