Who Gets Suspended from School and Why: A Demographic Analysis of Schools and Disciplinary Infractions in a Large School District

By Mendez, Linda M. Raffaele; Knoff, Howard M. | Education & Treatment of Children, February 2003 | Go to article overview

Who Gets Suspended from School and Why: A Demographic Analysis of Schools and Disciplinary Infractions in a Large School District


Mendez, Linda M. Raffaele, Knoff, Howard M., Education & Treatment of Children


Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to examine out-of-school suspensions in a large, ethnically diverse school district by race, gender, school level, and infraction type. Such an analysis was undertaken to address gaps in the suspension literature regarding how suspension rates change across school levels for students of different genders and races and what types of infractions result in suspension for students in various demographic groups. Suspension data from the 1996-97 school year was examined for all (N=142) general education schools within one west central Florida school district. Results showed that the over-representation of Black males that has been cited consistently in the literature begins at the elementary school level and continues through high school. Black females also were suspended at a much higher rate than White and Hispanic females at all three school levels. Across school levels, most suspensions were for relatively minor misbehavior. Black males were over-represented in suspensions across almost all infraction types. Findings are discussed in terms of their implications for school discipline reform.

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As public concern regarding school safety has grown in recent years, out-of-school suspension has been used with increasing frequency to respond to serious levels of student misbehavior and maintain a positive educational climate in schools (Brooks, Schiraldi, & Zeidenberg, 1999). However, because it involves the exclusion of students from the learning process, suspension frequently is perceived as one of the more extreme responses available to administrators within the continuum of various disciplinary options. Indeed, suspension typically is intended by administrators and perceived by students as a punishment (Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Mellard & Seybert, 1996). That is, in contrast to a consequence, suspension is delivered to punish an already-committed inappropriate act or behavior; it rarely has a logical, functional, or instructive connection to the offense or infraction; and it usually occurs in the absence of additional interventions that focus on teaching or reinforcing students' more prosocial or appropriate responses to difficult situations. Regardless of the rationale underlying it, repeated suspension has been linked to a variety of negative outcomes for students, including academic failure, negative school attitudes, grade retention, and school drop-out (Brooks et al., 1999; Nichols, Ludwin, & Iadicola, 1999).

From a problem-solving, prevention, and intervention perspective, it is important to know how many students are suspended from the different levels (i.e., elementary, middle, and high school) of our schools, whether there are important demographic trends, and what types of incidents are triggering the need for suspensions. These analyses are especially critical (a) in light of historic trends where Black students have been disproportionately suspended from schools across the country, especially when contrasted with White students; (b) given the need to protect special education students' rights when a disability influences the behavior that prompts the suspension; and (c) in the face of recent "zero tolerance" legislation whereby certain specified behaviors incur an immediate suspension (Brooks et al., 1999; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997; The Civil Rights Project, 2000). Clearly, by understanding the data and their implications, schools may be able to develop and implement more positive and effective scho ol-wide behavioral support systems (Lewis, Sugai, & Colvin, 1998; Sugai & Homer, 1999) such that the need for suspension substantially decreases, and it is used more as a strategic intervention than as a last, reactive resort.

The Incidence and Demographics of School Suspension

In reviewing recent history, out-of-school suspensions have increased during the past decade, and they are one of the most commonly used forms of discipline in the United States (Dupper & Bosch, 1996). …

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