71 Am. U. L. Rev. 1927 (2022).
Inequities in school discipline and policing have been long documented by researchers and advocates. Longitudinal data is clear that Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) students are punished and policed at higher rates than their white classmates. For students who have disabilities, especially those with intersectional identities, the impact of school discipline and policing is amplified, with disparities existing at some of the highest rates across multiple categories. And this disproportionality has not diminished during short- and long-term school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, schools have employed new models of exclusion in the pandemic setting that operate simultaneously with “traditional” punitive responses, e.g., suspensions and expulsions. This raises significant concerns that in a time of heightened vulnerability resulting from COVID-19, discipline disparities and educational inequities are not only being replicated but exacerbated, and in some cases, escalated. Despite evidence of the significant co-influential nature of health and education, school policies and practices have not been deemed public health priorities. Too often, the operation of such policies and practices are narrated and re-narrated as falling outside health law and policy. This Article aims to alter this current pathway by examining two overused, yet underexamined drivers of health inequities—school discipline and policing—through the health justice framework. The application of health justice to discipline and policing is an essential first step to developing a more comprehensive approach to eliminating entrenched health inequities that have affected BIPOC students and students who have disabilities before, during, as well as beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time of increasing race-conscious approaches to public health and recognition that “all policy is health policy”1 the urgency to address the two- tiered system of racialized and gendered discipline and policing in the U.S. education system as a health justice priority is clear. From evidence of direct individual negative health outcomes to potential indirect adverse health consequences for peers, families, and communities, the predictable patterns of exposure and risk for diminished health status of marginalized students during key stages of development underscores the importance of dismantling legal, political, and social structures that drive health injustice.
* Thalia González is a senior scholar, Georgetown University Law Center; professor, Occidental College. We wish to acknowledge Emma Kaeser, Emma Kaikilani Burrows, and Cassiopeia Land for their invaluable research in preparation of this Article. We wish to thank Paige Joki for her expertise regarding the use of virtual discipline. We also wish to thank the editors of the American University Law Review for their time and assistance in preparation of this Article.
** Alexis Etow is managing director at ChangeLab Solutions.
***Cesar De La Vega is a senior policy analyst at ChangeLab Solutions.