Educators consider several factors when setting discipline policy. Creating safe environments,
meeting the needs of individual students, administering punishment equitably, and deterring
behavior all play a part in discipline practices commonly used in k-12 schools.
With a lack of resources and crowded schools however, it is no wonder that administrators
suspend or expel 2 million high school students a year.
Exclusionary discipline to include out of school suspension (OSS) is a common tool used to
mitigate poor student behavior in k-12 schools throughout the United States.
The rise in OSS was fueled by the war on drugs and the get tough on crime campaigns of the
1980’s and 90’s when the nation’s fear of violence by young people soared. These campaigns
along with media coverage of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, caused school
districts to adopt zero tolerance discipline policies with the intent to erase, deter, and curb
student misbehavior on k-12 campuses.
In the wake of the Columbine massacre, the fear of the “teenage super predator” resulted in
federal funding of school resource officers while student support staff including counselors and
school psychologists were cut from tight district budgets. Furthermore, the 1994 Gun Free
Schools Act required states receiving federal funding to expel, for at least a year, any student
found bringing a weapon to school.
By the end of the 1990s, every school district in the country reported having a zero tolerance
policy contributing to the rise in the use of out of school suspensions.
Zero tolerance policies and the use of OSS began with the good intention to make schools safer
from violence, guns, and drugs. Over time however, these policies began to encompass a wide
variety of non-violent student misbehaviors. As a result, schools began suspending students for
class disruption, general disrespect, cell phone use, or chronic absenteeism.
Larger schools experience discipline challenges that smaller schools do not. Smaller schools
have the ability to cultivate better student-adult relationships that help mitigate bad behavior.
According to the 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education: Race and school, schools
with up to 1300 students had lower suspension rates than those with larger populations.
Research has shown that the use of OSS has not produced safer schools or deterred student
misbehavior. Instead the exclusion from school increases drop out rates and student
disenfranchisement, disproportionally affects students of color, and lowers academic
Increased Dropout Rates
Students who have been suspended from school are more likely to drop out. Suspension
disconnects students from a stable support system and erodes trust. This disconnection and lack
of trust can lead to higher drop out rates.
A Johns Hopkins University study found out of school suspension increased the likelihood of
students leaving school from 16 percent to 32 percent. A study conducted by researchers at
Columbia University found only one third of students who received a suspension during the first
three semesters of high school went on to graduate within four years.
The use of out of school suspensions disproportionately target students of color. Both African
American and Hispanic students are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than
their white peers.
According to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, during the 2014-2015
school year, 75.7 percent of in-school suspensions in Mississippi involved black students who
make up 49.6 percent of the k-12 population. While there is an almost equal percentage of white
students in the state (45.7 percent), only 22.5 percent of in-school suspensions involved this
Several other states including Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and Louisiana also had a
disproportionate number of suspensions for black students. These racial disparities are not the
result of different behavior but of different treatment.
Lower Academic Achievement
Out of school suspensions have a negative impact on student academic achievement. Students
with at least one OSS had lower grades on average than their non-suspended peers. Missed class
time and an erosion of the student school relationship contribute to this lower academic
Educators must shift from the use of exclusionary discipline practices and adopt positive
approaches to school discipline including Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS),
restorative justice and trauma informed care. These methods have shown to improve behavior,
academic achievement, and social-emotional learning. Further, they align with the ethical and
moral responsibilities of educators to improve the lives of young people. Andy Jordan Principal
has been reducing out of school suspensions and implementing PBIS and support systems for
schools as an administrator since 2014. For more information please email him at
firstname.lastname@example.org. For ideas on how to build relationship please see Principal
Andy Jordan's Genius Hour Blog or improving school culture with assemblies blog.
Blog Written By: Andy Jordan Principal
Andy Jordan, Ed.S.
Andy Jordan is a first generation college graduate who has dedicated his career to improving schools and fighting educational equality. Please follow and comment as we discuss the educational process.