We’ve known harsh and exclusionary discipline practices have long-lasting, traumatizing, and potentially life-threatening consequences on students, disproportionately targeting and harming Black students and students with disabilities. Now, new research confirms that out-of-school suspensions harm students and continue to target Black students and students with disabilities.
Out-of-school suspension harms both students that are suspended and other students.
A recent study of Charlotte, NC schools found that suspensions negatively impact educational achievement not only for the students who are suspended but for other students as well; students who attended stricter middle schools – regardless of whether they were directly impacted by suspension or not – were more likely to drop out and were less likely to attend a 4-year college.
The study also found that students who attended middle schools that relied heavily on suspensions were substantially more likely to be arrested and jailed as adults. These long-term, negative impacts were felt across a school’s population, not just by students who were suspended, and were largest among Black and Hispanic boys. This research adds to the evidence that harsh and exclusionary school discipline policies harm school climate and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.
While the use of out-of-school suspension has decreased across the country, disparities persist.
A recent analysis of national data found that out-of-school suspensions in middle and high schools and in K-12 schools in general have decreased in recent years. During the 2017-18 school year, middle and high schools suspended an average of 7.4 percent of their students versus 9.6 percent in the 2011-12 school year. Similarly, the average rate of suspensions in K-12 schools in general fell from 5.6 percent in 2011-12 to 4.5 percent in 2017-18.
Despite this reduced reliance on out-of-school suspensions, Black students and students with disabilities continue to bear the brunt of this harmful practice. In the 2017-18 school year, schools were still more than twice as likely to suspend their Black students compared to their white or Hispanic students and were more than twice as likely to suspend their students with disabilities compared to their students without disabilities.
As schools consider returning to in-person in the fall, we must ensure our students aren’t returning to a norm of criminalization and harm.
As more and more evidence confirms that exclusionary and harsh school discipline has lasting negative impacts on our children, especially Black children and children with disabilities, we must shift resources from harmful discipline practices to more supportive resources. Positive behavioral intervention and supports have been shown to not only reduce suspensions, but also reduce tardiness and absences, bullying, and feelings of rejection among students and are associated with more racially equitable discipline practices. It’s time for schools to shift from prioritizing criminalization to prioritizing support and care for students.