Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Zero Tolerance, School Shootings, and the PostBrown Quest for Equity in Discipline Policy: An Examination of How Urban Minorities Are Punished for White Suburban Violence

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Zero Tolerance, School Shootings, and the PostBrown Quest for Equity in Discipline Policy: An Examination of How Urban Minorities Are Punished for White Suburban Violence

Article excerpt

Nicholas P. Triplett University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Ayana Allen University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Chance W. Lewis University of North Carolina, Charlotte

On May 16, 1954, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas Supreme Court decision abolished de jure segregation of American schools, and ushered in a new era of integration that became the "gold standard for defining the terms of formal equality" (Guinier, 2004, p. 93) under constitutional law. To this end, the Brown decision engendered myriad of expectations such as renewed faith and hope, however, sixty years later, the promise of educational equity in American schools remains unfulfilled (Hanson, 2005). Many of the social ills that disenfranchised the social, political, economic, and educational realities of minorities in general and African Americans in particular remain embedded in the fabric of American society. For instance, school discipline has emerged as an imperative in the quest for civil rights in education post-Brown, and more specifically within the last three decades. In fact, on January 8, 2014, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and Attorney General, Eric Holder, released a series of guidelines, which urged schools to abandon zero tolerance discipline policies (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). Officials contend that such policies do not promote the legal or democratic principles of equal educational opportunity (Hanson, 2005), and have and continue to punish minority students more harshly and more frequently than their White counterparts (U.S. Department of Education, 2014).

The Obama administration's call to action is representative of a recent trend in the increased legal and political scrutiny of zero tolerance, discipline disproportionality, and the pervasive overlap between educational institutions and the criminal justice system, generally termed the school to prison pipeline or jailhouse track (Advancement Project, 2005; Wald & Losen, 2003). In January of 2010 a federal class action lawsuit was filed which challenged the New York Police Department's unlawful arrest of school children for non-criminal violations (New York Civil Liberties Union, 2010). Similarly, in August 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice found that officials in Meridian, Mississippi helped to operate a school-to-prison pipeline, wherein children arrested in local schools were subjected to incarceration in violation of their constitutional rights (U.S. Department of Justice, 2012). Moreover, on December 12, 2012, the Senate Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Congress held the first ever hearing on issues related to the school-toprison pipeline (Advancement Project, 2012). The unprecedented legal and political visibility of such cases has brought renewed public attention to zero tolerance mandates and racial discipline disproportionality, a phenomenon that has been documented since the 1970s (The Children's Defense Fund, 1975). Through their focus on student constitutional rights, these collective actions signal a paradigmatic shift in the debate over school discipline, from a racialized perspective based on fear and punishment to one that more closely adheres to the ideals of educational equity embodied in the Brown decision.

The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between school shootings and zero tolerance discipline mandates in order to analyze whether the demographic characteristics of school gun violence incidents during the zero tolerance era justify the disproportionate adoption and application of punitive discipline in urban, high minority schools. This article commences with a discussion of the historical evolution of school discipline, and seeks to position the harmful effects of zero tolerance policies and racial disproportionality in discipline within the broader context of racial inequality in education since the Brown decision. The study presents data and analysis on school shootings from 1990-1999, a period of rapid expansion of zero tolerance policies. …

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