The Prisonization of America’s Public Schools

Dozens of students stand in the freezing cold waiting to enter their Title I public high school in Washington, D.C. I join the end of the line and wait patiently with the students. After fifteen minutes pass, I finally go to the front, identify myself as a licensed substitute teacher who teaches an elective course at the school, and gently inquire as to the cause of the line. The uniformed guard at the door does not realize I am in fact a lawyer/administrator with the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, and he mumbles something about how everybody just has to wait. I observe that there are only two guards to shepherd in approximately 800 students—one making sure students go through the metal detector, and another monitoring backpacks and bags that students place on the conveyor. Each student stands in line, files into this ominous concrete building, submits to a fairly invasive search and then enters into a building with cameras, police officers, and other intrusions on their privacy every day, for 182 days per year. This scene is a common one. Today, millions of school-age children across America experience similar inconveniences and privacy intrusions every single school day in the name of school safety.

American public schools look very different today than they did twenty-five years ago. My interest in school violence began as an eleven-year-old whose suburban Chicago elementary school was attacked by a woman with mental health problems who shot six children, killing little Nicholas Corwin. Overnight, our school district became hyper-aware of security, utilizing police officers and installing metal detectors—only to remove them months later.

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