'Bitch,' Go Directly to Jail: Student Speech and Entry into the School-to-Prison Pipeline

25 Pages Posted: 22 May 2016 Last revised: 10 Sep 2016

Catherine J. Ross

George Washington University - Law School; Institute for Advanced Study

Date Written: 2016


This article demonstrates the close connection between student speech that the First Amendment protects (even for students in grades K-12) and penalties school authorities impose on speech they find controversial or offensive. The penalties include deprivation of instructional time – suspension, expulsion and assignment to alternative school for troubled and disruptive youth. The link between the exercise of First Amendment rights and school discipline that starts young people on the school-to-prison pipeline is even more dramatic when on-site police officers arrest students or schools refer them to the juvenile justice system for violating a school speech code – rules imposed by the school that may restrict expression the First Amendment protects in- and out- of school. Using national and local survey data that show the majority of students suspended from school are charged with nothing more than a code violation, often involving protected speech (such as cursing or criticizing a teacher), as well as reported cases about violations of student speech rights decided long after students had lost educational time, and the stipulations in the prolonged civil rights litigation in Meridian, Mississippi linking race, speech, in-school arrests and incarceration, the article demonstrates a nexus between the exercise of constitutional rights and the school-to-prison pipeline. The article also discusses penalties imposed for off-campus speech by students, especially online expression. The author argues that protected speech should never result in penalties that lead to adjudication as a delinquent or confinement in a juvenile facility.

Keywords: juvenile justice, school-to-prison-pipeline, school discipline, student speech, first amendment, schools, suspension, expulsion, alternative schools

JEL Classification: K19, K39

Suggested Citation

Ross, Catherine J., 'Bitch,' Go Directly to Jail: Student Speech and Entry into the School-to-Prison Pipeline (2016). 88 TEMPLE L. REV. (2016); GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2016-11; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2782555 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2782555

Catherine J. Ross (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Institute for Advanced Study ( email )

Einstein Drive
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States
609/734-8268 (Phone)

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