School officials across the country responded to a surge in juvenile crime during the 1980s and the Columbine High School shootings a decade later by tightening disciplinary policies and increasing the number of police patrolling public schools. One unfortunate result has been the creation of a repressive environment in which young people are suspended, expelled or even arrested over minor misbehaviors — like talking back or disrupting class — that would once have been handled by the principal.
The policies have not made schools safer. However, by criminalizing routine disciplinary problems, they have damaged the lives of many children by making them more likely to drop out and entangling them, sometimes permanently, in the criminal justice system. The policies are also discriminatory: black and Hispanic children are shipped off to court more frequently than white students who commit similar infractions.
The need to chart a new course in school discipline is underscored in a report scheduled to be released on Thursday by the New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force, a working group led by Judith Kaye, the former chief judge of the State of New York, and composed of people from the fields of law enforcement, education, philanthropy, civil rights and child advocacy.