Does e-learning create a virtual pipeline from school to prison?

The school-to-prison pipeline has gone ‘virtual’ following online schooling during the pandemic, warned an article published in the Loyola Children’s Legal Rights Journal.

The legal problems posed by the disciplinary policies of virtual schools have become even more complex, The Regulatory Review, a publication of the Penn Program on Regulation, reports.

The author of the article, Victor Jones, a The Education Special Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), where he litigates school desegregation and other educational equity cases, argues that students see their behavior as home regulated through virtual platforms – a practice that results in disproportionate dismissal of students of color and students with disabilities becoming involved in the system.

Typically, some behaviors in the classroom would simply be sent back to the parent for home correction, but due to the pandemic and virtual learning, isolated behaviors at home are now subject to scrutiny by teachers within a framework university.

Jones wrote that these federal and state policies, in the name of student safety, have resulted in unintended negative consequences for students.

“Discipline of exclusion” miles away

In a college setting, “exclusionary discipline” occurs when a student is removed from the classroom due to a behavioral infraction, such as suspension, expulsion, or detention.

Studies have shown that these types of disciplinary actions can lead to even lower academic achievement and amplify the inappropriateness of exclusionary discipline.

Many of the examples detailed by Jones in his article highlight the dichotomy of treatment of young students when attending school online, and highlight growing questions about how students can be punished for things and behaviors committed in their own homes – while students, teachers and administrators are essentially miles apart.

The story of nine-year-old Ka’Mauri Harrison is told by Jones, noting that he was taking an online test when his younger brother ran into his room and tripped over a BB gun.

Then Ka’Mauri had to move the toy gun off the ground and out of harm’s way. By holding the toy gun up to the camera while in a virtual classroom, the school opened a case against him for the incident, suspending him for five days and risking expulsion.

Similarly, another student, “Ben”, a hearing-impaired 12-year-old Latinx preteen was suspended for five days and expelled from the Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy in Louisiana after briefly showing his virtual classmates his katana sword. used for martial arts.

Finally, Jones details the case of Isaiah Elliot, another 12-year-old disabled student of color, who momentarily held a NERF toy gun while he was having his online class, and the school suspended him and took him to school. called local law enforcement to carry out social action. check – all before informing his parents of the incident.

Jones warns that “at least two decades of multidisciplinary research reveal that the use of exclusionary disciplinary practices against children in schools does not serve its goals of reducing disruptive and dangerous behavior”.

Jones also says that when teachers start reaching for their students’ screens and monitoring their behaviors and toys at home, the concern is that they will begin to discipline free speech, such as telling a student what he can and cannot have on the walls like posters in their bedroom that have served as the backdrop for their virtual learning for years.

Parents also argue that using images in their home or recorded video during the virtual lesson is a violation of privacy.

See also: School violence and hate crimes increased before COVID-19


In his article, Jones recommends that school districts should first rethink their disciplinary policies and implement district-wide disciplinary regulations for virtual platforms.

He says these changes are “necessary” to address new constitutional issues presented by online classrooms and racial and disability discrimination.

On NERF guns and BB guns, Jones suggests zero-tolerance “gun-free” policies and the Gun-Free Schools Act shouldn’t extend to student homes through online classes, argues- it, because they exceed the limits of the font. a child can and cannot have or play with at home – especially when in view of the camera.

Additionally, Jones suggests that school districts should encourage students to use neutral virtual backgrounds and prohibit them from recording their classmates during virtual school to protect the student’s right to privacy and of the family.

“When families are battling to maintain their health and stability, the last thing a child or parent should have to worry about is whether an unintended action taken on a computer camera during virtual school instruction may result in disciplinary measures that augur harmful and potentially lifelong consequences. concludes Jones in his article.

Full paper can be available here.

Further reading: Could federal COVID funding shut down the school-to-prison pipeline?

Andrea Cipriano is associate editor of The Crime Report.

Perry A. Thomasson