School-to-Prison Pipeline

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What is the school-to-prison pipeline?

It’s a series of policies that emphasize punishing children more than educating them. These policies took hold in the last 15 years – many a well-meaning response to school shootings like Columbine and “tough on crime” rhetoric around the country.

These policies have led, however, to the increased presence of police in schools; higher rates of suspensions, expulsions, and dropouts; and a jump in the number of students pulled out of schools and funneled into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Of dire consequence is the practice of criminalizing nonviolent behavior formerly handled by school administrators, like disrupting or skipping class, arriving late, or writing on school property.

What’s the ACLU doing?

The American Civil Liberties Union – both nationally and in Texas – is dedicated to stopping the school-to-prison pipeline.

Nationally, the ACLU has long fought for the idea that children should be educated, not incarcerated. Our legal team has challenged policies and practices that trap public school students in negative cycles, and fought for fair and equal treatment of children in the juvenile justice system. The United States Constitution guarantees that all students have the right to be free from discrimination. The Texas state Constitution says that every student is entitled to an adequate education in public schools. These rights are being compromised by short-sighted policies that disrupt education and make our schools less safe.

Here in Texas, we are doing advocacy around the state to push the legislature to amend the Texas Education Code and reverse the most damaging policies. This includes removing the law which criminalizes truancy, stopping the practice of expelling students for “serious misbehavior,” and making sure police in schools ensure safety without punishing students.

We are involved in a class action lawsuit, De Luna v. Hidalgo County, challenging the unconstitutional jailing of scores of low-income teens age 17 and older for their inability to pay onerous fines associated with missing school when they were 13 or 14.

And we are working to arm student and community activists to petition their local School Boards for change.

When it comes to policies that criminalize nonviolent offenses and systematically push children out of school, students’ due process rights are often violated.

When it comes to schools that employ school police – or school resource officers as they’re often called – but fail to train them properly, fail to make their use of force policies public, and fail to require them to report data on arrests, ticketing and use of force, issues of transparency and accountability are at stake.

When one examines the statistics on how discretionary policies like the “serious or persistent” misbehavior statute are applied, grave civil rights concerns arise. There is substantial statistical evidence that students of color and special ed students are being penalized more than their white, mainstream peers. In some Texas districts, African-American students are 2 to 54 times more likely to be expelled for “serious or persistent misbehavior.” And while special education students make up 10 percent of Texas’ student body, they account for 21 percent of all expulsions. This disproportionate impact is exactly the kind of systemic bias that the ACLU has challenged throughout its history.

If you believe your rights have been seriously violated at school, contact us. We are an impact litigation organization. We look for ways to challenge unfair systems and policies — not simply challenge individual wrongdoing — so many cases are better handled by a regular attorney. You should contact one while you wait to hear back from us.

If you have a story to share, contact us at We’d love to share it online and use it to make our case with the Texas Legislature. We’d love to have a video of you telling your story. You may send audio or written accounts as well.