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In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and efforts to achieve racial justice through systemic reform, this Article argues that widespread “security” measures in public schools, including embedded law enforcement officers, jump constitutional guardrails. These measures must be rethought in light of their negative impact on all children and in favor of more effective—and constitutionally compliant—alternatives to promote school safety. The Black Lives Matter, #DefundthePolice, #abolishthepolice, and #DefundSchoolPolice movements shine a timely and bright spotlight on how the prisonization of public schools leads to the mistreatment of children, particularly children with disabilities, boys, Black and brown children, and low-income children. Purportedly implemented to deter crime and ensure safety, many school prisonization measures are fear-based rather than evidence-based. Furthermore, this Article argues that schools engaging in prisonization practices violate the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights of children to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, compelled self-incrimination and procedural due process, cruel and unusual punishment, and discrimination based on a protected status such as race and gender.

By examining how a wide range of constitutional rights are affected by prisonization practices, this Article adds new and more profound dimensions to the existing literature on students’ constitutional rights in public schools. Since the seminal cases were decided, the pre-conditions that influenced a narrow majority of the Court to side with school officials have changed. Greater prevalence of law enforcement officers and practices in schools necessitate reexamination of privacy intrusions. Further, greater reluctance to allow harsh punishment of children in light of scientific discoveries about juvenile brain development. Finally, the confluence of current conditions—the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice movements—make it an ideal time for school districts to divert funds away from prisonization practices and into stronger socio-emotional and mental health programs that are proven to improve school climate and safety.

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Seattle University Law Review





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