Grassroots advocacy campaigns mobilized by students and families directly affected by the school-t o-prison pipeline and a growing research base have catalyzed recognition of “zero tolerance” discipline's harmful effects, especially its role in funneling students of color into the school-to-prison pipeline.
Recent federal guidelines urge the promotion of a positive school climate, nonpunitive discipline practices, and ongoing data evaluation for public elementary and secondary schools to “ensure fairness and equity for all students” (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). Notably, the report highlighted the importance of supports for students who have experienced or may be at risk for trauma.
Efforts to overcome the host of negative life consequences and cumulative disadvantage faced by trauma-exposed children need to be driven by a moral imperative that support opportunities for healthy development and takes a comprehensive system change approach.
Build Institutional Racism Awareness and Trauma Competence in Educational Settings
Needed system change is predicated on universal recognition among school professionals that trauma and adversity disproportionately impact children of color and that they have a critical role to play in buffering affected children from further harm and fostering inroads to critical support services. Operationalizing trauma-informed care in school settings helps to (a) appraise whether a school's infrastructure and operations help or hinder students facing adversity; (b) assess how students learn, behave, and interact to better identify root causes of their difficulties; and (c) employ strategies that foster emotional and behavioral regulation that, in turn, build children's academic and social competence (Cole et al., 2013). Effective implementation requires administrative leadership commitment, dialog and reflection on the interactive impact of institutional racism and trauma on school policies and staff-student dynamics, and ongoing evaluation of student outcomes to support racial equity and inclusion.