Roundtable: The Perspectives of Youth Affected by Exclusionary School Discipline

Reports of exclusionary school discipline policies (e.g., suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom) have made headlines in recent years. Policies that were once instituted for safety reasons to prevent serious infractions, such as weapon carrying or use of illicit drugs, have crept into discipline practices for minor issues, such as tardiness and dress code violations.

During a roundtable on the topic, youth shared their personal stories and perspectives about the effects of exclusionary school discipline on their social-emotional development, academic performance and life trajectories. They also spoke about the risks and challenges of the school-to-prison pipeline (the relationship between widespread school suspensions and expulsions and resulting involvement in the juvenile justice system).

Roundtable: The Perspectives of Youth Affected by Exclusionary School Discipline presents a description of the experiences and recommendations of participating youth. As one youth said, "…if there are policies and practices that are blocking a pathway and making it difficult to learn, then you need to get rid of it…if it is blocking you from being able to get your education, if it is stopping you from being present in class, if you get suspended for minute things, get rid of it so that students can actually stay in class and continue to learn and grow.” Some of the youth also spoke on camera about their experiences—hear them in their own words.

The youth who participated in the roundtable feel that exclusionary discipline

  • limits opportunities to learn and compromises academic achievement;
  • is applied disproportionately and subjectively; and
  • deprives students of the support services they need.

Evidence shows that exclusionary discipline can result in a greater likelihood of students repeating a grade, not graduating, or entering the juvenile justice system. Research has consistently demonstrated that suspensions and expulsions have been applied disproportionately to racial and ethnic minorities, males, students with low socioeconomic backgrounds, and students with disabilities. Students of color are suspended and expelled more frequently and for less serious and more subjective behaviors than their non-minority peers.

The voices of youth affected by exclusionary disciplinary practices and policies are often absent from or marginalized in discussions on approaches to school discipline. When youth are engaged, the value of their experience is acknowledged and their expertise in being a part of a solution is recognized. As one youth noted: “…the only one that knows exactly what is going on is the student, because they are the ones going through it.”

AIR is working with the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, a collaboration between the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education that is addressing concerns that use or disproportionate use of practices in exclusionary school discipline too often contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. The roundtable built on previous listening sessions that AIR facilitated for DOJ and ED and on requests from youth for an opportunity to speak directly about how these practices affect them.

For more information, contact Reyhan Reid at

David Osher
Vice President and Institute Fellow