School Discipline: An Occasional Series on Developments in School Disciplinary Policies and Practices

Last Updated: July 24, 2010

Reports in Louisiana and Texas Document Overuse of Harsh Discipline

This article appeared in the July 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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In recent years, many schools have increased the use of harsh discipline practices, including suspending and expelling students — often for minor offences. Some of this practice is the result of laws that force schools to implement specific punishments for student behaviors that schools have traditionally handled on their own. But in many cases schools are expanding their discretionary use of harsh disciplinary tactics. The consequences can be dire with many students ending up in the justice system, or out of school for days or weeks, often for minor or only alleged infractions. Around the country, families and others concerned about the use of harsh discipline and are working to implement alternatives that promote positive behavior and keep young people involved in the educational process.

Louisiana Report Documents Disparate Use of Harsh Discipline

In Louisiana, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative and Friends (NESRI) and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FLIC) collaborated to produce “Pushed Out: Harsh Discipline in Louisiana’s Schools Denies the Right to Education.” According to statistics cited in the report, Louisiana has higher-than-average suspension rates. In the Recovery School District in New Orleans, which many, including Governor Bobby Jindal, are promoting as a model for the state, one student in four is suspended at least once each year.

According to the report, Louisiana’s expulsion rate is five times the national rate.

The report also found that, overall, school districts with larger percentages of African-American students and students living in poverty utilize more punitive and exclusionary discipline practices and have higher rates of suspensions and expulsions than other districts. NESRI and FLIC documented greater difficulty in obtaining discipline rates in charter schools due to a lack of transparency. In the Recovery School District in New Orleans, 57% of students attend charter schools.

The report makes several recommendations, which include:
  • creating legislation to mandate the use of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), an approach to discipline that teaches and promotes appropriate behavior and has been shown to decrease behavior problems and improve overall school climate;
  • placing caps on the number of days students can be suspended; and
  • expanding data collection and reporting on school discipline.

Texas Report Focuses on Expulsion

The Texas Appleseed public interest law organization recently released Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline: School Expulsion — the Path from Lockout to Dropout. The report is the second in a series.

The first Pipeline report documented the over-representation of minority and special education students who were discretionarily suspended by districts, that is, excluded from school for infractions for which suspension is not mandated by law.

The new report has found the same trends in school expulsion. Among its findings, the report notes that the majority of students who are expelled in Texas are expelled discretionarily, for offenses for which expulsion is not mandated by law.

One of the discretionary offenses for which a student can be expelled in Texas is “serious or persistent misbehavior” while in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP). In Texas, DAEP programs are meant to be a stopgap for students at risk of school exclusion. But Pipeline reports that they are often just a temporary stop before expulsion with students being expelled for dress code violations and other infractions that would not trigger expulsion in any other setting. The report also notes that questions about the quality of DAEP programs in Texas are raised in many quarters.

The report finds that Texas expels students of color at much higher rates than other students. It cites a study that found that African-American students are more likely to drop out of school for discipline reasons than members of any other racial or ethnic group.

Among the report recommendations are the implementation of PBIS programs, elimination of some offenses for which schools can discretionarily expel students, and closer oversight of DAEPS.

Read more:

Pushed Out, the Louisiana report and local news coverage:

Pipeline, the press release:

Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline: School Expulsion – the Path from Lockout to Dropout, the report:

News coverage:

Read more from the July 2010 Rural Policy Matters.