Disparity in Discipline Policies in Schools.

Since the rise of violence in schools indicated by the tragedy at Columbine High School and the increase of bullying, many schools have adopted strict discipline policies.  Recently school districts have decided to change their policies because old policies were producing a disparity between white students and students of color.  Southern Poverty Law Center recently published a report, Suspended Education: Middle Schools in Crisis, which investigated the discipline statistics of ten school districts in the United States.  Review of the data indicated male students of color are more likely to be suspended than female students of color and white students.  The statistics also indicate suspension is used as punishment 5% of the time for serious or dangerous offenses such as possession of weapons or drugs.  The other 95% is reported for less disruptive, non-violent offenses such as abusive language, tardiness, and truancy.  Not only are students of color being suspended more than their peers but are more than likely being suspended for less disruptive and non-violent offenses. 

Federal legislation has required school districts to use discipline policies that are proven effective by research.  A pool of educators argue that high suspension rates indicated by the Suspended Education: Middle Schools in Crisis report, should also show a lower rate of disruptive or violent behavior among students and improvement in school safety or climate.  Rather, schools with higher school suspension have poorer results on standardized testing and a higher rate of repeat offenses by students who are suspended.

Currently the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights office is leading an investigation of five school districts in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Utah that show a disparity in their discipline practices based on gender and race.  The investigation is an effort to show federal support for school districts to recognize their disparate discipline practices.

Across the country school districts began to investigate the impact current discipline policies have on different groups of students. News articles across the country advocate for School Wide Positive Behavior Support programs.  Recently, an alliance associated with the Dignity in Schools Campaign's National Week of Action to End School Pushout published an investigative look at the improvement in Los Angeles Unified School District’s implementation of the School Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) program.  The report states that after four years of implementing the SWPBS program they have seen a 13.3% decrease in suspensions, 55.6% decrease in expulsions and a 31.7% decrease in opportunity transfers.

Take a look at some of these resources on discipline policies in schools and positive behavior programs:

Teaching Tolerance: Pushed Out
Teaching Tolerance: The Building Blocks of Positive Behavior
New Jersey Positive Behavior Support in Schools
Positive Behavioral Support and Interventions

After reviewing some of the articles and resources provided, answer the following questions:

  • How is discipline handled in your school?
  • Have you noticed any trends in how your school’s discipline policies are practiced? Are there disparities based on gender and/or race?
  • In your opinion, in what, if any, ways could a positive behavior program benefit your school climate?

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