Addressing the Root Causes of Disparities in School Discipline: An Educator’s Action Planning Guide

Discriminatory discipline practices in our nation’s schools disproportionately impact students of color; students with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive disabilities; and youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ). Large numbers of these students are removed from class, lose opportunities to learn, and are suspended or expelled from school because of exclusionary discipline practices. The impact on students, families, schools, and the community is serious and the cost is high. Students become alienated from school and their teachers, and they are placed at risk of educational, economic, and social problems. Often these youth also have disproportionate rates of contact with the juvenile justice system, particularly when being arrested at school or referred to court from school. This initial contact can lead to deeper involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems and reduce the likelihood that these youth will return to school or graduate.

This guide provides tools to assess and systematically address disparities in school discipline. It describes how to carry out a descriptive analysis of disparities in school discipline and how to conduct a root cause analysis to systematically address school-based factors that contribute to disparities. These analyses should result in an actionable understanding of the following:

  1. Who is being disparately disciplined and what is happening to them
  2. The systemic causes of disparities in school discipline and why they occur
  3. How you can reduce and eliminate disparities in school discipline

The primary audience for this guide is school teams and school district teams. The guide helps willing education leaders and other stakeholders use a data-informed process to examine disparities in school discipline and systematically change policies and practices. It also is for use by schools and districts required to complete an assessment of disparities and change practices. The guide is written to support efforts that include all stakeholders invested in schools—students, families, community-based organizations, advocates, and agencies, including health and mental health professionals and those representing youth development, child welfare, law enforcement, courts, and juvenile justice agencies.

To assist in completing the tasks outlined in the guide, there are a suite of resources provided for your use. Other resources are noted throughout the guide, including tips for conducting the difficult conversations that need to occur to sensitively and productively address racial, ethnic, and cultural issues that may emerge.