Bailey Ellicott


Since their inception in the late 1980s, zero-tolerance policies have been a cornerstone of American school discipline. Passed by legislators with the intent of protecting school children, these policies have disparately upended the education of marginalized students. School discipline of vulnerable students often paves the way to juvenile incarceration, which in turn exponentially increases the likelihood of adult incarceration. Moreover, students with disabilities, especially students of color with learning disabilities, are often physically pushed out of their classrooms through suspensions and other harsh disciplinary policies. This is only made worse by the presence of law enforcement in schools, who treat “difficult” students as suspects rather than individuals in need of support.

All students with learning disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education, and this right is safeguarded through legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). However, vulnerable students often fall through the cracks of this law in a way that mirrors the trends of adult mass incarceration. If students were given the individualized attention they need rather than punishment and suspension, schools would be more effective in reaching students of all backgrounds and fewer students will be pushed from classroom to prison.