Our Projects

Keep Kids in Class: Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Our signature project positions MA Appleseed at the forefront of understanding the intersection of school discipline practices, zero tolerance, and youth entering the juvenile justice system. We seek to mitigate effects of zero tolerance, remove barriers to access to public education, and support at-risk youth to keep kids in class where they are safe, supported, and available for learning.

From Preschool to Prison

In fact, each year, some 32,000 students are excluded from school. Preschoolers as young as four years old, and sixth- and ninth-graders making the transition to middle and high school, are especially at risk. Excluded students are likely to be male, poor, or receiving special education; a disproportionate number are Latino or African-American. Once excluded, a majority of these children—our children—drop out, end up in "the system," or serve time.

Best Practices for Safety and Success

Working with volunteer lawyers and community stakeholders through in-depth research, community problem-solving, and consensus building, we develop powerful solutions that create systemic change. The Keep Kids in Class project includes the following components:

School Discipline and Dropout Prevention Law: In August 2012, the Massachusetts Legislature passed Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012 An Act relative to student access to educational services and exclusion from school. This new law strives to keep children in school by curbing the use of school exclusions. The law enacts several key recommendations from MA Appleseed's school discipline report, which aim to decrease school exclusions and foster genuine educational opportunity for all children. In particular, the law requires school districts to collect and report data on school suspensions and expulsions, establishes additional notice and hearing provisions prior to suspension or expulsion, and promotes continued academic progress by creating alternative education programs. MA Appleseed continues to advocate for robust implementation of the new law.

Parent Guide to School Discipline: Our Parent Guide, available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole, provides parents and caregivers with guidance about the school disciplinary process. The guide also offers strategies to help parents become informed advocates and strong partners in their children's education. The guide covers different types of disciplinary actions, strategies to advocate for a child to receive education services during exclusion from the regular classroom, and more detailed information on serious actions and expulsions. MA Appleseed is grateful to its sister center, Texas Appleseed, for its permission to modify the original Texas law-based publication, "When My Child Is Disciplined at School."

School Discipline Reports: In 2012, after meeting with experts who work in public schools and examining data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, MA Appleseed published "Keep Kids in Class: New Approaches to School Discipline." Many of the recommendations from the report made their way into the new school discipline law (Chapter 222) adopted later that year. In 2016, we published a follow-up report analyzing the school discipline data from the first year of Chapter 222 implementation. The report, entitled "School Discipline in Massachusetts: How are We Doing?" acknowledges the significant progress made under the new law while highlighting the persistently disproportionate discipline rates for students of color and students with disabilities.

Juvenile Judge Survey: MA Appleseed surveyed and interviewed juvenile court judges to gain insight into the relationship between school discipline practices, zero-tolerance policies, and youth entering the juvenile justice system through school-based referrals. The results and key themes are summarized in this issue brief. The judges' insights and opinions have been formative to MA Appleseed's "Keep Kids in Class" project, and continue to inform our policy work in this area.