Many people have seen the shocking internet video of a teenage African-American girl getting flipped in her desk by a South Carolina school resource officer. We have learned that she was a 12th-grade student who was making up a ninth-grade class. We understand that she had a good relationship with her teacher and was doing well in this class, having not finished this ninth-grade class earlier. The not-uncommon school rule was that no cellphones were allowed in class. On this day, however, the student refused to give up her cellphone when asked by the teacher: The teacher called the school resource officer and watched while the officer flipped the student and removed her in handcuffs to the police station. One of her fellow students allegedly spoke up in defense of the student and took the viral video with her phone. She, too, was taken to the police station.
Through videos, short presentations by HLS faculty, and discussions facilitated by HLS graduates, this session analyzes the phenomenon now known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” discussing questions such as: How can we teach accountability without using punitive approaches at school? how might the experience have been for this student? how did it impact the other students? And what might have the teacher been thinking as he watched? The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s Education Law Clinic has represented many students who have been suspended or expelled; through case examples, we shared how we came to recognize that much behavior for which we provide punitive approaches can be trauma-related. We will show a short video the clinic developed: “Why We Need Trauma Sensitive Schools.” In the last part of the session, participants will looked through the trauma lens, then use this new perspective to consider important questions about the roles of law and policy in helping to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and, more broadly, in fostering safe, supportive learning environments that allow all students to succeed.