Pictured, left to right: Astraea Ausberger (Assistant Professor, BU School of Social Work), Liza Hirsch (MAC Staff Attorney), Stephanie Molina (MAC Staff Attorney), Vigny Fong, LCSW (Intensive Care Coordinator, JRI/Dimock CSA), Maria Dixon (Senior Family Partner, JRI/Dimock CSA)

MAC on the case: The school-to-prison pipeline

Black students in Massachusetts are suspended and expelled from school at three times the rate of white children, and the suspension and expulsion rate for students with disabilities is double the statewide average.[1] Research has also shown that students who are repeatedly suspended from school are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system.[2]

The consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline in Massachusetts are significant – from an article published by WBUR’s Learning Lab: “School discipline and educational disparities mirror a stark reality of the criminal justice system: only 7 percent of Massachusetts residents are black, yet 28 percent of the people behind bars in Massachusetts are black.”[3]

MAC Staff Attorneys Liza Hirsch and Stephanie Molina spoke with colleagues Vigny Fong and Maria Dixon of the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) regarding their interdisciplinary approach to combating the school-to-prison pipeline at a panel held on April 12 by the Boston University School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation in Social Work and Health.

The MAC-JRI partnership is a part of MAC’s school discipline project which focuses on school exclusion and the effects of punitive discipline policies and practices, particularly on students of color and students with disabilities. The project’s work includes providing legal assistance and training to parents and mental health service providers regarding rights pertaining to school exclusion, which informs MAC’s broader school discipline reform efforts.

MAC played a leading role in the passage of Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012. The underlying principle of the law and regulations is to make exclusion from school a last resort, especially for all but the most serious offenses. The law also requires all students who are excluded from school to have access to their school work and assignments, and for students excluded for more than 10 consecutive days to receive alternative education services in order to continue to make academic progress.

Liza and Stephanie, along with JRI panelists, answered audience questions regarding the intersection of socioeconomic status, race, immigration status, and disability in issues of school discipline and criminal justice. Audience members raised questions about the role of poverty and racial bias in the school-to-prison pipeline, while others expressed concern about the extent to which preschool children are being suspended and expelled.

For resources on the school discipline law and the ways in which MAC’s school discipline project keeps children in school and learning, visit www.massadvocates.org/discipline.


[1] Losen, Daniel J., et al. “Suspended Education in Massachusetts: Using Days of Lost Instruction Due to Suspension to Evaluate Our Schools.” UCLA Report Finds Changing U.S. Demographics Transform School Segregation Landscape 60 Years After Brown v Board of Education, The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, 9 Mar. 2017.

[2] Kim, Catherine Y., et al. The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform. New York University, 2010.

[3] “Massachusetts’ School-To-Prison Pipeline, Explained.” WBUR Learning Lab, 21 Apr. 2015.