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Excerpted From: Areto A. Imoukhuede, The Right to Public Education and the School to Prison Pipeline, 12 Albany Government Law Review 52 (2018-2019) (197 Footnotes) (Full Document)


AretoImoukhuedeThe school-to-prison pipeline is a controversial concept and a disappointing reality. It refers to the draconian disciplinary “trend of schools directly referring students to law enforcement or creating conditions under which students are more likely to become involved in the justice system-- such as suspending or expelling them.” Public schools are intended to primarily be institutions for public education. It is clear that serving as a pipeline to prison is not the central purpose of the public school.

The purpose of public education is to provide students an opportunity to develop their capabilities and grow as individuals. Public education is intended to inculcate civic values that will prepare students to function socially and integrate seamlessly into society. However, prison is a place where we send those who demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to adhere to the norms of society, those who have not embraced society's values, and those who have therefore, not successfully integrated into society. School should prepare students for happy, successful, and meaningful lives that are completely unrelated to prison. The school-to-prison pipeline distorts the public education mission by way of a “collection of education and public safety policies and practices that push our nation's schoolchildren out of the classroom and into the streets, the juvenile justice system, [and ultimately] the [adult] criminal justice system.” As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has noted: “[t]his pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education.” Black children are “disproportionately targeted for referral and arrest by police in schools” and are inevitably more susceptible to becoming victims of the school-to-prison pipeline. One of the most disturbing consequences of being a victim of the pipeline is that it leads to negative educational and long-term outcomes and, thus, undermines a student's right to public education. Any student funneled into the pipeline is on a path to destruction. The core idea presented in this symposium-inspired piece is that the school-to-prison pipeline undermines the right to public education and must therefore be dismantled. This argument is advanced in three parts.

Part I begins by first recognizing that there is a right to public education. That right is a duty--a positive right--that each state has an obligation to enforce pursuant to their state constitutions and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Part II defines the school-to-prison pipeline. This part discusses the emergence of zero tolerance policies and the impact of school exclusion and arrest on student education.

Part III addresses the disproportionate impact of zero tolerance policies on Black victims and concludes that the school-to-prison pipeline is part of the modern American story of racial oppression.

[. . .]

The school-to-prison pipeline undermines the right to public education and must therefore be dismantled. Notwithstanding the fundamental rights holding of San Antonio v. Rodriguez, there is a right to public education that each state within the United States has recognized and that the constitution and federal laws protect. Both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment demand that students be treated equally and not be subject to arbitrary application of zero tolerance policies. Despite these protections, zero tolerance policies emerged and have negatively impacted the lives of children through school exclusion and arrest. The disproportionate impact on Black victims of the school-to-prison pipeline is part of the modern American story of racial oppression.


Areto A. Imoukhuede, Professor of Law, Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law.