On Tuesday, June 12, the American Psychological Association (APA) and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) hosted Exclusionary Discipline at the Intersections of Disability Identity, Race, and Gender. The purpose of the briefing was to review the current state of discipline disparity research, the psychological consequences of high expulsion rates among marginalized students, and federal and policy reform that could help remedy these problems.

Presenters included Dr. Amanda Sullivan, Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota; Dr. Ivory Toldson, Professor, School of Education at Howard University; Dr. Claudia Vincent, Senior Research assistant, Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior and Center for Equity Promotion at the University of Oregon; and Dr. Lauren Amos, Associate director of educational research, Mathematica Policy.

Dr. Sullivan defined “exclusionary discipline” as removal from any usual learning environment. In many cases, exclusionary discipline is the result of developmentally typical behavior, such as restlessness, that is deemed inappropriate by subjective judgement. Data indicates that:

Expulsion rates are highest in pre-kindergarten classes and have such detrimental effects she referred to it as “pre-k to prison pipeline;” 

African American boys are most likely to face exclusionary discipline for non-serious behavior; 

On a national level, disabled students are twice as likely to be expelled, and these rates are much higher in many counties; 

Expulsion rates are up to three times higher for students with low socioeconomic status, and students who are expelled are twice as likely to repeat a grade, three times as likely to repeat a grade, and three times as likely to go to a juvenile corrections center; and 

Nationally, between 30-80 percent of youth who are detained or incarcerated have a disability.

Exclusionary discipline is often leading to burnout and attrition of teachers, and creates a negative school environment. Exclusionary discipline also creates family child care and education instability because children cannot be at school while parents are working. It also hurts communities because it adds to criminal involvement. In studying schools, Dr. Toldson found that the percent of suspension increased with the number of African American boys that made up the school population. He also found that deep-south states had some of the worst suspension rates in the nation. He said many administrations think that suspending students will fix the behavior problems of the students, something he called “lazy suspension”. Dr. Claudia Vincent discussed how implicit bias, different expectations of students, and ambiguous situations all contribute to discipline disparities in school settings. The categorization of student performance leads to unequal opportunities and creates self-fulfilling prophecies for students, feeding into discipline disparities. Dr. Lauren Amos admitted that creating safe and healthy school environments is resource intensive, but can prevent many damaging cycles that plague our education system today. She thinks federal agencies can play an important role reversing the culture of discipline apathy. Raising awareness of Civil Rights data collection and funding additional research to fill the gaps in the education community’s knowledge base can also help professionals advocate and incentivize high quality discipline.

The panel provided many recommendations and improvement to the creating alternative actions to expulsion and suspension. Dr. Sullivan discussed that effective discipline would take a paradigm shift for adults looking at behavior and having correctional discipline. She also recommended an investment in mental health professionals at schools to help manage behavioral problems in children and take the stress off of teachers and administrators. Dr. Vincent proposed reduction of teacher’s stress and ambiguous situations as a solution to discipline. Last, she discussed how promoting positive school climate, social and emotional learning, and having a restorative approach to discipline can help decrease disparities and continued problematic behavior. Dr. Vincent recommended that in dealing with a problem teachers should use the model of asking what happened, who was affected, and what can be done to set things right to prevent discipline disparities. She also recommended including student voices in discipline policies to help create a positive environment. She also called for an increase in data and document collection from school districts and transparent reporting using metrics so that all data is comparable.