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Time out of school has huge implications for student achievement and future success. “Being suspended even once in ninth grade is associated with a twofold increase in the likelihood of dropping out of high school, from 16% for those not suspended to 32% for those suspended just once” (Losen & Martinez, 2013, p. 1). Certain discipline measures also funnel youth into the juvenile justice system and increase their risk for future incarceration.

While schools have reported an overall decrease in the number of suspensions and expulsions since the 2011–12 school year, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights indicates that huge disparities remain in school discipline among the nation’s middle level and high schools. Although they represent only 8% of the student population, Black male students accounted for 25% of students who received an out-of-school suspension. Black female students also represented 8% of the student population and accounted for 14% of students who received out-of-school suspensions. In addition, students with disabilities represented 12% of students enrolled and 26% of students who received an out-of-school suspension. Research demonstrates that many suspensions are the result of minor infractions of school rules, such as violating dress codes, truancy, excessive tardiness, cell phone use, loitering, or classroom disruption (Center for Civil Rights Remedies, 2013).

Nonetheless, many schools and districts have reduced or eliminated suspensions, which suggests “factors controlled closely by the schools influence the high rates and observed disparities in suspensions” (Losen & Gillespie, 2012, p. 36). Large districts such as Baltimore and Los Angeles have fostered effective school leadership and positive changes at the school level and reduced suspension rates as a result. Some of these district-level factors include “whether or not schools’ discipline disparities are remedied, conducting careful selection and training of principals, providing support for teacher and leadership training, initiating changes to the school discipline code of conduct, and providing the specific behavioral supports and services that students with disabilities need” (Losen, et al, 2015). More than 30 states have also passed laws limiting the use of suspension or expulsion or had laws that encourage alternatives to disciplinary exclusion.

One approach gaining popularity in schools is restorative justice, which can encompass dialogue techniques between teachers and students or more formal restorative conferencing that involves students, staff, and often family members. While the research base is still in its infancy, preliminary evidence shows a positive impact on school climate, expanded student engagement in learning, improved student achievement and graduation rates, and increased student chances for lifelong success. However, principals and assistant principals cannot make changes in school discipline policy on their own and will need significant assistance and resources from states and districts to enact these recommendations.


Source: National Association of Secondary School Principals (2021). Position Statement: School Discipline 2021