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Steven received a 30-day superintendent’s suspension notice that violated his rights.

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Policy & Initiatives

Policy Agenda: School-to-Prison Pipeline

Policy Agenda: School-to-Prison Pipeline

The school-to-prison pipeline is a phrase used to describe the disproportionate application of exclusionary school discipline practices to youth of color and youth with disabilities, leading to over-representation of these youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Youth who fall along the school-to-prison pipeline are often academically and behaviorally underserved and subjected to overly harsh and discriminatory discipline policies.

During the 2012-2013 school year, there were more than 53,000 out-of-school-suspensions from NYC traditional public schools. Seventy-eight percent of these suspensions were for lower-level infractions of the Discipline Code, for conduct such as defying authority or talking back. Students of color and students with disabilities were disproportionately suspended. Suspensions force students to miss valuable instructional time while failing to address underlying behaviors. There is no evidence that the regular use of suspensions improves school safety and clear evidence that suspensions negatively impact student outcomes.

We advocate for positive approaches to discipline that maintain safety while improving school climate, increasing learning, and reducing the overreliance on exclusionary discipline practices such as suspensions, arrests, summonses, and unnecessary removals by Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

►  Convene a Mayoral-Led Leadership Team:

This interagency, multidisciplinary Team should be charged with re-designing school discipline to keep students safely in school while avoiding suspensions, arrests, summonses, and inappropriate removals by EMS. The Team should set targets such as reducing the number of suspensions and should publicly report its progress. The Team should include leaders from key City agencies and other stakeholders, such as parents, youth, and advocates, as well as representatives from the fields of education, justice, child welfare, and mental health.

►  Initiate and Fund a Restorative Practices Pilot School Initiative:

Despite the demonstrated success of positive and restorative responses to student misbehavior in school districts around the country, only a handful of NYC schools are engaged in this work. Implementing a pilot in ten schools would require an estimated $1.5 to $1.75 million.

►  Revise the DOE’s Discipline Code:

The Discipline Code should mandate the use of guidance interventions, such as counseling, mediation, positive behavioral supports, and restorative justice, prior to imposing suspensions in most cases. The Discipline Code should also prohibit the use of suspensions for minor infractions.

►  Expand Training and Professional Development Opportunities:

The DOE must provide ongoing professional development to ensure that all school personnel, School Safety Agents, and school-based police officers are trained in behavior management and de-escalation techniques that are based on culturally-competent understandings of child development and age-appropriate positive approaches to school discipline. An investment of $700,000 would allow the DOE to train an additional fifty schools in restorative justice or to expand the Institute for Understanding Behavior’s successful Therapeutic Crisis Intervention system to twenty-five high-needs schools.

►  Expand Student Support Services:

The City must increase the number of school social workers and guidance counselors and increase access to mental health services in schools for students with significant social emotional needs. Hiring enough social workers and guidance counselors to fully staff a targeted group of high-needs schools would represent a modest increase in the DOE’s budget and could have a big impact on suspension rates citywide. The DOE should increase access to mental health services through school-based mental health clinics and school-based health clinics offering mental health services, mobile models that serve schools without school-based clinics, and school-based partnerships that facilitate rapid referral of students in crisis to community mental health clinics.

►  Increase Use of Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs):

In response to a complaint filed by AFC, the State recently ordered the DOE to revamp the procedures for conducting evaluations of student behavior (FBAs) and developing behavior plans (BIPs) for students with disabilities whose behavior interferes with their learning. The DOE must mandate training and provide support in developing FBAs and BIPs that provide individualized behavioral support and hold schools accountable for using these tools.

►  Amend the NYC Student Safety Act:

The current Act permits the DOE to redact significant portions of suspension data. With such limited data, the number of suspensions issued to Black students or students with disabilities, or even the total number of suspensions issued citywide, is unknown. Closing loopholes in the Student Safety Act to promote greater transparency is essential to the creation of a more positive and progressive discipline system.

►  Revise the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DOE and NYPD:

In 1998, the City transferred school safety responsibilities from the DOE to the NYPD. The current MOU is outdated and incomplete. The revised MOU should emphasize graduated, measured responses to different levels of misbehavior and school-based, rather than court-based, resolutions to school disciplinary matters.

►  Provide youth with quality education while they are in detention, in placement, or incarcerated:

An overwhelming number of students who are court-involved are academically behind, and roughly 50 percent are students with disabilities, most of who have emotional and/or learning disabilities. The DOE, ACS, and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) must ensure that all students in detention, in placement, or incarcerated receive quality education, including remedial literacy, special education services and supports, credit-bearing coursework, preparation for Regents exams, and behavioral health services and supports.

►  Provide uninterrupted, quality education for youth transitioning from detention, placement, or incarceration back to the community:

The DOE, ACS, OCFS, and facilities contracted to care for court-involved youth must work together to ensure that all youth discharged from court-ordered settings get seamlessly re-enrolled in school, referred to appropriate school placements, and expeditiously awarded credits for work done while in detention, in placement, or incarcerated. These agencies must also work together to transition students back to schools that are welcoming and nurturing and can provide mental health services, remedial literacy programs, and robust special education services.

Learn more about AFC's work with students facing disciplinary issues and court-involved youth.