Examining Inequity in Exclusionary Discipline

By Joseph Hedger

Student achievement and school discipline practices are strongly linked over the long term. One Texas study found that about 10 percent of students suspended or expelled between grades 7-12 ultimately dropped out, and those suspended or expelled for discretionary violations were twice as likely to repeat a grade as similar students who did not receive such punishments. Minority youths face higher rates of exclusionary discipline than their white peers. According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, minority students, who make up about half the public school population, received 67 percent of the out-of-school suspensions in 2013–14. And black students, who constitute 15.5 percent of the population, received 31 percent of the expulsions.

Education leaders reported similar data for Connecticut schools to the Connecticut State Board of Education in May 2017. They showed that despite an overall decline in exclusionary discipline across the state, inequities remain in the suspension and expulsion rates of black and Hispanic students vis-à-vis white students.

The Ohio board approved a resolution in June 2017 recommending a model policy for handling violent, disruptive, and inappropriate student behavior. This model emphasizes preventative discipline strategies and interventions as well as providing students and families with clear examples of the specific disciplines associated with each behavior and leaving suspension and expulsion as a last resort.

Florida celebrated some recent success in reducing suspensions. At a February 2017 state board meeting, board member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey shared a Harvard Law and Policy Review article recognizing Miami-Dade and Broward Counties’ school districts for decreasing school-based arrests and suspensions. Both districts had implemented restorative justice approaches to addressing student behavior.

A 2010 study by Yale University’s Walter S. Gilliam found that the preschool expulsion rate is over three times that of K-12 students. This astounding statistic raises an important question: How do we sustainably keep the youngest children in schools, including black children, who in 2013–14 received 47 percent of preschool out-of-school suspensions while representing only 19 percent of preschool enrollment?

On December 5, 2017, the Maryland board approved the publication of amendments to the disciplinary actions regulations reflecting Senate Bill 651, passed in July, which prohibits the suspension or expulsion of preK-2 students (with exceptions identified) and lists interventions and steps to avoid exclusionary discipline.

The state board in Virginia also focused its attention on early childhood discipline at a January 2018 meeting, where members unanimously voted to approve the final review of the “Virginia Guidelines for the Prevention of Suspension and Expulsion of Young Children.” These guidelines provide policy guidance and best practices for implementing developmentally appropriate experiences to prevent suspension and expulsion for children from birth to age 5.

Joseph Hedger is NASBE’s associate editor. He can be reached at joseph.hedger@nasbe.org.