Back-to-School Action Guide

Reengaging Students and Closing the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Posted September 7, 2021
By The Sentencing Project
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A cover image of the report, which shows five young people of various races exiting a building. At least two are wearing bookbags. All are wearing masks.


As the 2021-22 school year kicks off, a new report — funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation — shares strategies for re-engaging students while also closing the school-to-prison pipeline.

Unprecedented Disruption

For virtually all children — and especially for adolescents — the coronavirus pandemic interrupted important developmental milestones, as young people were cut off from their peer groups and missed significant life events. Many students were left facing an influx of new challenges and specific demographic groups — Black, Latino, those from low-income households, English language learners, and children with disabilities —struggled more than others.

Not surprisingly, schools across the country reported lower test scores and higher absentee rates than in years prior. Now, with a new academic year underway, these same schools are bracing for a significant uptick in behavioral issues and attendance problems.

Unprecedented Opportunity

The American Rescue Plan allocates $122 billion to public schools — the largest infusion of federal funding for elementary and secondary education in U.S. history. Schools across the nation have an opportunity to leverage these funds to help close the devastating school-to-prison pipeline. For such a shift to occur, school systems and their community partners must work together to minimize arrests, reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, enhance safety and foster student success.

A Way Forward

This report proposes a two-part reform strategy. Part one is an all-out effort to reengage students who have fallen behind or disengaged from school during the pandemic.

Part two is a push to permanently reduce longstanding racial and ethnic disparities and support vulnerable student populations — including youth with disabilities — by prioritizing opportunity over punishment.

Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations

Key Takeaway

America’s education system faces a year of unprecedented challenges — for both students and schools

It’s a new academic year and K–12 students across the nation — many of whom suffered educationally, psychologically, and socially during the pandemic — are returning to schools that are themselves confronting serious, longstanding challenges.

This report calls for states and local school systems to adopt effective strategies to reduce longstanding racial and ethnic disparities, close the school-to-prison pipeline, and support vulnerable student populations. Specifically, it charges schools with: removing school resource officers; minimizing arrests; reducing exclusionary discipline; crafting developmentally appropriate responses to misbehavior; promoting school safety through restorative justice; forging close connections with community organizations and residents; hosting a wide array of services and enrichment activities; re-engaging students who are chronically absent; and offering an array of promising interventions, including intensive tutoring.