As Schools Reopen, Report Highlights Opportunities to Promote Student Success and End School-to-Prison Pipeline

By Anya Chen and Morgan McLeod


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Sentencing Project has released a new report documenting the potential opportunities and pitfalls that the U.S. education system faces as schools reopen.


The report, “Back to School Action Guide: Re-Engaging Students and Closing the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” highlights the $122 billion federal relief fund providing educators, advocates, and community leaders with the rare opportunity to end the school-to-prison pipeline and invest in new strategies to promote children’s success.


“The research leaves no doubt that more effective approaches are available to address student misbehavior and to engage and support those at risk of failure,” said Richard Mendel, the report’s author and Senior Research Fellow at The Sentencing Project.


Mendel believes historic progress can be achieved if schools take the opportunity to reduce suspensions, replace school-based police officers with counselors, and further student success through proven strategies, including intensive tutoring and attendance promotion.


Punitive practices such as the criminalization of African American and Hispanic students already exist within the education system, noted the report, which found overwhelming evidence that these harsh responses harm children’s futures and fail to ensure safety.


When coupled with the detrimental challenges brought by the pandemic such as disconnection, learning loss, and trauma, student development during the 2021-2022 school year could continue to be hindered nationwide.


However, the report suggests a hopeful future for millions of vulnerable school children.


“During these difficult times and at all times, it is so important that we listen to children and their needs so we may provide the necessary resources to support their education and well-being,” said Joey Orduna Hastings, Chief Executive Officer of the National Council for Juvenile and Criminal Court Judges.


The report urges school systems and their community partners to adopt a two-part reform strategy:


First, an all-out effort in 2021-2022 to re-engage students who have fallen behind or become disengaged from school during the pandemic.


Second, a permanent shift to reduce long standing racial and ethnic disparities and support vulnerable student populations, including youth with disabilities, by prioritizing opportunity, not punishment.


The reports notes that educators and their community partners can prevent children from entering the prison system by establishing a new standard that fosters success, promotes equity, and recognizes the realities of adolescent behavior and brain development.

About The Author

Anya Chen is a third year Communication major at UCLA and hopes to pursue criminal defense law. She is from Washington, D.C.

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