William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice
Children, especially Black children, are killed, traumatized, injured, and terrorized through assaults, solitary confinement, inappropriate handcuffing, and other excessive applications of physical force upon children in public schools. The state employees enacting such maltreatment are not just police. They are mainly teachers, principals, and security guards, and they are given authorization by law for purposes of “educating,” “disciplining,” and “maintaining order” in public schools. Scientific research does not support the use of physical force to improve behavior, however. This Article describes the problem of school brutality, the excessive, unwarranted, and traumatizing use of physical force by state employees upon students. By traumatizing children, school brutality can cause lasting and disabling developmental and educational harm. School brutality is facilitated by multiple legal structures, including a tort law privilege rooted in colonial times; an inconsistent patchwork of state laws permitting seclusion, restraint, and corporal punishment; qualified immunity; lack of regulation of police officers’ actions in schools; federal funding for regular police presence in public schools; and lack of enforcement and review of reporting on school brutality. Substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, originally framed to protect adult criminal suspects, are inadequate for children. Unless state employees become less shielded from civil and criminal actions that seek to hold them accountable for school brutality, new private rights of action are needed. State and federal legislators can save lives and support educational achievement by ending the legalization of school brutality.