In Sacramento County, Black students faced the highest rate of suspensions among Sacramento City Unified School District, Elk Grove Unified School District, Twin Rivers Unified School District, and San Juan Unified School District in both 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. In the Sacramento City Unified School District's Black students were suspended (12.5%) at roughly five times the rate of White students (2.5%) in both school years, and a little less than three times the rate of Hispanic students (4.4%).
Research has also shown that those subjected to suspensions are more likely to enter into poverty. There is a direct correlation between suspensions and the criminal injustice system, which is described by the school-to-prison pipeline. ACLU refers to the school-to-prison pipeline as what happens when children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal injustice systems.
In 2019, Students attending schools with high suspension rates were 15–20% more likely to be arrested and incarcerated as adults.
Students of color, those with disabilities, those who struggle with poverty, and LGBTQIA+ students are severely disadvantaged from the school-to-prison pipeline. From a young age, these students are taught that they are less than them as they are labeled as the “bad kid,” someone to be feared instead of appreciated by teachers and peers.
Another problem is that once a child is labeled as "deviant," if it is internalized by the student, it can be hard to break free. What sometimes happens is that the child starts to play that negative role that is placed on them in what psychologists refer to as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Schools are a place for learning, growth, and being among peers. Schools are not meant for students to be walking on eggshells, too afraid to make a mistake as if they are unworthy of second chances.
Overall suspensions have dramatically increased following school disciplinary actions like zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances and no matter how minor the "offense." In Sacramento County, school districts issued 45,000 suspensions and expelled 268 students during the 2011-12 school year. Once Sacramento County school districts started doing away with the zero-tolerance policies during the 2016-2017 school year, suspensions and expulsions went down by 40 percent from 2011-2012.
Having school resources officers, aka police officers, has worsened the situation as research has shown that schools with more police tend to have higher arrest and suspension rates. The Sacramento City Unified School District finally realized that having SROs officers were problematic and has severed ties with the Sacramento City Police Department for the 2020-2021 school year and opted instead for an Alternative School Safety Taskforce that includes representatives from groups including the African American Achievement Task Force, Community Advisory Committee, labor groups, parents, staff and students. They are focused on ways to define safety and anti-racist school discipline policies. Other ways of disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline lie in restorative justice.
Sacramento City Unified School District is also using restorative justice to “ensure that our system is more focused on helping students understand how their actions impact others and holding them accountable for those actions, rather than just punishing them.”
We got work to do to put a stop to the harmful and degrading school-to-prison pipeline.