National Center for Youth Law

At the Center

Slowing the Growth of the School to Prison Pipeline During COVID-19 Statement

The National Center for Youth Law urges school districts nationwide to take bold measures to serve children who are at even greater risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. These children include students of color, students with disabilities, students in foster care, students in the juvenile justice system, and students who are homeless.

Several factors historically place students at risk of court involvement, including: exclusionary school discipline actions such as suspension and expulsion, homelessness, foster care or justice system involvement, transfer to alternative schools, and inadequate identification and provision of special education services and other accommodations for disabilities. We anticipate that school districts may place less importance on responding to these challenges for students during and in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, which could have dire consequences for already-vulnerable children.

We strongly recommend that school districts take the following actions to reduce the risk of growing the school-to-prison pipeline because of the COVID-19 pandemic:

School Discipline

  • Cease the use of exclusionary school discipline during the pandemic and for at least 30 days after students return to normal school operations in the 2020-21 school year;
  • Withdraw all pending expulsion recommendations, and allow students satisfying their expulsion terms during the pandemic to enroll in their home districts immediately;
  • Ensure students who have been expelled are connected to distance learning opportunities and other education services through their school district of origin; 

System Involvement

  • Ensure students who have had to move residences are able to remain enrolled in their school of origin during the pandemic. On the rare occasion that this is not possible, enroll these students in their new resident school district without delay;
  • Connect students returning from juvenile justice facilities to school districts immediately to their district of origin such that they have continuity of instruction and special education services and receive credit for instruction they received in facilities. In the rare occasions that returning to their school district of origin is not possible, enroll these students in their new resident school district without delay;
  • Permit highly mobile and re-entering youth to enroll in school, even if school districts have otherwise suspended 2019-20 enrollment;
  • Eliminate the use of probation violations for school-related activities – e.g. attendance and behavior – during the pandemic; 

Transfer to Alternative Schools

  • Suspend all transfers to alternative education settings during the pandemic and for at least 30 days after students return to normal school operations in the 2020-21 school year;
  • Provide continuity in instruction for all students enrolled in alternative education settings, including independent study programs, in a manner that is comparable to the instruction comprehensive school districts are providing;

Special Education

  • Ensure students with disabilities have meaningful access to the services in their Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or Section 504 plans;
  • Ensure students with disabilities can reconvene their IEP teams remotely during the pandemic if any adjustments or additions to their education services must be made because of distance learning;
  • Offer students with disabilities Extended School Year services; and
  • Reconvene IEP teams within 30 days after students return to the school building to determine what type of compensatory education is needed.

California-Specific Resources

For more information on NCYL’s related recommendations for school districts in California, see this letter to California’s County Offices of Education about how to address the school-to-prison pipeline during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.

For more information on school districts in California that are creatively addressing equity in their pandemic learning plans, visit this webpage.