CDF Supports Legislation to End Harmful School Discipline and Promote Supportive School Climates

July 28, 2021 | National

Students need safe, healthy, and inclusive learning environments. Despite evidence that school policing and harsh, exclusionary discipline practices make schools less safe, lead to long-term behavioral and mental health impacts, and fuel the school-to-prison pipeline, thousands of students are still subjected to over-policing and dangerous discipline methods like corporal punishment or restraint. 

The presence of school resource officers (SROs) and police in schools does not make students safer or encourage learning. Rather, increased police presence has been found to harm school climate and academic outcomes, criminalize typical child-like behavior, lead to disproportionate use of force against and arrest of Black students, and perpetuate the cradle-to-prison pipeline

Over-policing disrupts the well-being of students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students, and it continues to increase even as schools face cuts to their social supports and beneficial resources like counselors, extra-curricular programs, and enrichment opportunities. In this year’s State of America’s Children® report, we highlighted findings that 14 million students attend schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker.

Similarly, harsh and exclusionary discipline practices have long-lasting, traumatizing, and potentially life-threatening consequences, disproportionately targeting and harming Black students and students with disabilities. According to a 2019 report, during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 academic years, Black boys were twice as likely to receive corporal punishment (ie. being hit, slapped, or paddled) as white boys and Black girls were three times as likely as white girls to be subjected to the practice despite being no more likely to misbehave. In more than half of the schools that practice corporal punishment, students with disabilities were struck at higher rates than students without disabilities, according to the report. 

These practices push Black students—especially Black girls—out of school, while positive resources like trauma-informed curricula, counselors, and restorative practices are associated with positive health and academic outcomes. Positive behavioral interventions and supports, for example, have been shown to significantly reduce student suspensions, tardiness and absences, bullying, and feelings of rejection among students and are associated with more racially equitable discipline practices. 

CDF is proud to endorse recent legislation to end harmful school discipline policies and promote safe and inclusive learning environments, including: 

  • The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act of 2021 to prevent federal funding from being used for police in schools and instead create a grant program to invest in evidence-based and trauma-informed services that create culturally-sustaining and positive learning environments. 
  • The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act of 2021 to eliminate the use of corporal punishment and create a grant program to support trainings and other programming to improve learning environments and reduce exclusionary discipline that disproportionately affects Black children.
  • The Keeping All Students Safe Act of 2021 to prohibit seclusion and restraint; provide states with better training to ensure student safety and establish enforcement systems; and require states to collect and report data to increase transparency and oversight. 

All children need access to high-quality and equitable educational opportunities without fear of discrimination or criminalization. CDF is proud to endorse these proposals to protect students from harmful policies and encourage schools to shift their priorities from criminalization to care for students.