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Underserved and Excluded: The Role of Exclusionary Discipline in Hindering Academic and Life Outcomes, School Climate, and Racial Equity

Gavin Alvarado (August, 2022)


Exclusionary discipline has been a mainstay of the American educational system serving as the de facto disciplinary standard in the wake of corporal punishment’s waning acceptability due in large part to 1977s Ingraham v. Wright ruling. In the period that followed many states’ outlawing of corporal punishment, exclusionary practices filled the disciplinary vacuum left behind in many school systems. The distinction between corporal and exclusionary disciplinary practices has been so firmly asserted across temporal and legal boundaries that, for many, they are assumed to be completely divorced from each other in the canon of scholarly discipline. The corporal element of discipline in schools is often considered a historical relic, extant only in the most traditionalist of schools. By contrast, exclusionary discipline, particularly in our contemporary era, may be assumed to be the logical successor to the more antiquated practice of corporal punishment. Between the period of 1974 to 2010, the number of students subjected to exclusionary practices in American schools doubled from 3.7% to 6.6% of students (Skiba et al.). Not only has the magnitude of students affected by exclusionary discipline increased, but it tends to be the case that disciplinary action such as out-of-school suspension is taken in response to a wide variety of low-level to moderate infractions. This results in students being removed from the classroom for behaviors such as disobedience, not reporting to detention, and the ever nebulous “disrespect” and “insubordination” (Skiba et al.).

Noting this, it is critical that we question the efficacy of a disciplinary norm that relies heavily on ostracization of students and reduction of crucial classroom instruction time. Alternative solutions such as positive behavioral interventions and systems (PBIS) seek to satisfy the disciplinary needs of students while also being conscientious and responsive to the socioemotional needs of students in their journey to self-management. Restorative justice and practices offer reconciliation and conflict management, while multi-tier support systems (MTSS) work to foster a more comprehensive network of stakeholders that might support students’ learning regardless of their disciplinary status. Response-to-intervention (RTI) attempts to minimize future disciplinary encounters for students through regular check-ins/intervention intervals.

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