Reducing Exclusionary Discipline in Schools

Last Updated: June 25, 2011

This article appeared in the June 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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The use of suspension and expulsion to punish students can act as a “pushout” that causes students to leave school before graduating. A student is more likely to drop out if she has been suspended or expelled. A student is also more likely to drop out if she has been retained in grade — an almost inevitable consequence of multiple suspensions. In addition, pushout has severe and lasting consequences for parents, schools, and communities. A number of states and districts are beginning to reconsider zero tolerance policies and reliance on removing students from school for discipline violations.

Maryland is considering limiting the amount of time students can be out of school while awaiting a final decision on a long-term suspension. The state’s school board proposed guidelines that would avoid delays in the discipline process. For suspensions longer than 10 days, all investigations, conferences, and decisions about the suspension would have to be finalized within those initial 10 days. The state board sought input from educators, parents, and stakeholders and is meeting this month to finalize the guidelines.

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Current legislation in Louisiana could help keep students in school and protect Louisiana’s youngest students from the most severe punishments allowed in schools. Senate Bill 67 has passed both houses of the legislature this month. Schools could not use discipline that removes an elementary student (kindergarten through fifth grade) from the classroom for anything other than serious offenses or as a last resort.

Pending Senate concurrence and Governor Bobby Jindal’s signature, the state’s schools will be required to adopt alternate discipline practices including restorative justice practices, loss of privileges, peer remediation, referral of students to counselors or social workers, and referrals of students to response to intervention. The bill also limits the time students must wait out of school for hearings.

The original legislation, sponsored by Louisiana Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Broome of Baton Rouge, would have required the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to consult with key stakeholders including parents and community members to adopt policies to guide in-school and out-of-school suspensions. But that provision was deleted.

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Read the current version of the bill here:

A Colorado legislative task force will study whether students of color are being ticketed and arrested, given out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement at higher rates than white students. The group will hold public meetings, review data, and solicit information that will be compiled into a report and legislative recommendations due on November 15, 2011. Zero tolerance policies are blamed for referring more than 10,000 Colorado students to law enforcement every year. The bill authorizing the Task Force, SB 11-133, had broach support and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper held a formal bill signing to make it law.

In addition to Colorado, 20 other states have created a task force or committee to study juvenile justice issues.

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For a national perspective, see two recent articles that summarize actions in other states to end zero-tolerance, including North Carolina, Delaware, and Indiana:

Read more from the June 2011 Rural Policy Matters.