Being a parent isn’t easy. Trying to make sure your kid eats their vegetables, does their homework, and goes to bed on time can be exhausting.

You also know that you are your child’s best advocate at home, and at school – when, many times, unnecessary harsh discipline policies can put your child’s future at risk, especially for children of color and children with disabilities.

The ACLU of Missouri found that Missouri schools disproportionately suspend, expel, refer to law enforcement, and even physically punish children of color and children with disabilities. (You can read our report.)

We found that students with in-school behaviors met with harsher, more frequent discipline have a greater likelihood of finding themselves caught up in the criminal justice system as they grow up, which is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

You’ve probably seen these kids in your child’s school, or may even be grappling with the physical and mental consequences of too-harsh and too-frequent punishment at school in your own home.

Many studies show that displacing students from the classroom interferes with their opportunity to get a proper education and diminishes their chances for a successful future.

Many times, students singled out for discipline develop perceptions of themselves as “bad,” leading to a damaging cycle of low-self esteem that can affect them for the rest of their life.

We know that parents want the best outcome for their kids. So, what can you do to stop the school-to-prison pipeline in your community?

Knowledge is power. The most important thing you can do is learn and understand the discipline policies and rights of students at your child’s school. Knowing what rights apply when students interact with school administration and law enforcement will help negate too-harsh and too-frequent punishments. 

Schools should clearly explain behavior expectations and disciplinary procedures to students and families. If anything is ever unclear, school administration should be asked to clarify.

Reviewing school policy is key to identifying any potential issues such as the use of vague language in describing behavior expectations or punishments that often create disparities in outcomes.

It is also incredibly important to make sure a school’s use of law enforcement officers and their policies on restraint and seclusion are appropriate. Aside from reviewing district policies, resources such as data from the federal Office for Civil Rights can be used to learn about disparities in disciplinary policies of specific schools.

Families should learn how to appeal a school’s disciplinary action and understand how this process might be unique for students with disabilities, in case a student is unfairly or disproportionately disciplined. (Check out our recommendations when protecting students with disabilities.)

You can view our school-to-prison pipeline report for more information on how to make Missouri a better place for our children.