One of the most tragic systems in our country is the blatant school-to-prison pipeline that continues to threaten children nationwide.

Missouri recently passed legislation that would classify schoolyard fights as Class E felonies. Regardless of age, students who instigate arguments or physical altercations will face a harsh punishment with potential jail time. School districts across the state notified parents and students about the severity of the new rules which take effect January 1. Harmful threats, fistfights even classroom disruptions will be examined under a legal lens. In third degree offenses, students assaulting "special victims" will be subjected to a class D felony. The term "special" is defined by Missouri as a law enforcement officer or emergency personnel assaulted while performing his or her official duties, a person with a disability, a vulnerable person, an elderly individual, etc.

Violent offenses of this caliber could result in serious prison time and exorbitant fines, along with an indelible mark left on the child's record long before they even realize the severity of their actions. It’s safe to assert that in situations like these, black youth will directly come under fire.

The U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights released a report earlier this year noting the racial gap of school punishments and suspensions with black students nearly four times likelier to be suspended than their white classmates

According to UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, Missouri ranked in the top three nationally for states with the highest number of suspensions for elementary schools between 2011 and 2012. In St. Louis alone, 28 more black than white students were suspended per 100 enrolled. The study also showed that 11 other districts had black elementary suspension rates between 10 and 20 percent.

The legal system in this country is fallible. Its intricacies, loopholes and incredulous guidelines are under constant scrutiny. Just this year, award-winning director Ava DuVernay examined the connection between slavery and mass incarceration in her acclaimed Netflix documentary, 13th. Missouri’s new policies bring more validity to the school-to-prison pipeline argument.

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