Beyond Bullying: How Hostile School Climate Perpetuates the School-to-Prison Pipeline for LGBT Youth

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-Full report-

Author(s):  Center for American Progress

  • Preston Mitchum
  • Aisha C. Moodie-Mills

Published: February 2014

Report Intro/Brief:
"School discipline policies have been under heightened scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education because of the disparate impact they have on students of color. Data released last spring by the Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, revealed that rigid school discipline policies—which lead to suspensions and expulsions of students for even the most minor offenses—perpetuate a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately criminalizes students of color and students with disabilities.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide For Improving School Climate and Discipline,” the first time federal agencies have offered legal guidelines to address and reduce racial discriminatio and disproportionality in schools. This guidance makes tremendous strides in reporting on the stark racial disparities in school discipline, however, missing from this groundbreaking work are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, youth—who are also disproportionately affected by harsh school discipline policies—due to the dearth of data to illuminate their experiences.

All too often, LGBT youth are pushed out of the classroom as a result of a hostile school climate. When an LGBT youth is tormented in school by classmates and is emotionally or physically harmed, or even worse, driven to suicide, the news media rightly shines a spotlight on the situation. And while bullying grabs the headlines, as it should, it is only a portion of the story when it comes to LGBT youth feeling unwelcome and less than safe in school.

To be certain, peer-on-peer bullying is an important factor that influences school climate and has been linked to poor health, well-being, and educational outcomes. But research suggests that harsh school discipline policies also degrade the overall school experience and cycle LGBT youth and students of color into the juvenile justice system at alarming rates. The role that overly harsh school discipline policies and adults in schools play in setting school climate is often overlooked. School discipline policies and the application of those rules set the tone for the school environment and shape the experiences for students of color and LGBT youth."
-from the report