School Discipline – Part II – Discipline Equity for All Students

A good majority of the professional development courses that teachers and administrators take throughout the year now focus on equity. Both in terms of academic success and discipline, equity training has become big business. And school districts are spending sizable chunks of their annual budgets to train their staff on the ins and outs of educational equity.

So what exactly is equity and how does it relate to school discipline?

Equity means reforming policies and procedures to make things fair for every student in the district. And to be considered fair, students should not simply have equal experiences at school. Rather, disadvantaged students should receive additional resources and support so they have a greater opportunity to be as successful as their peers.

In terms of school discipline, equity means eliminating any “issues of bias, racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia” according to Pennsylvania’s Department of Education.

It’s a commonly held belief in educational circles certain groups of students are disciplined unfairly based on certain characteristics they share.

The raw data does tend to support this claim:

  • 50% of public school students are white and they account for 32% of school suspensions
  • 25% of public school students are Hispanic and they account for 21% of school suspensions
  • 16% of public school students are black and they account for 39% of school suspensions
  • 5% of public school students are Asian and they account for 2% of school suspensions
  • 4% of public school students are other and they account for 6% of school suspensions

Black students also account for 31% of law enforcement referrals and school-related arrests as well, which is higher than other groups.  When it comes to gender, boys are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than girls.

School districts around the country are now actively trying to discipline students of color less often. In fact, school districts regularly receive reports on all disciplinary actions in their districts broken down by certain characteristics such as race to keep focused on this goal.

The thought behind it is that even one disciplinary action can cause certain students to drop out of high school and eventually end up in the school-to-prison pipeline. Black and Hispanic males are most at risk.

To become more equitable in terms of discipline, many school districts across the country use the PBIS—Positive Behaviors and Interventions—framework and restorative justice practices instead of punitive punishments like detentions, suspensions, and expulsions.

With both PBIS and restorative justice, the goal is to give positive feedback and rewards regularly to all students.  Students of color often need additional support to be successful in the classroom so there’s a push to be especially sensitive to their situation and needs.

Equity in discipline training posits that cultural differences, such as being loud, speaking out of turn, and students getting out of their seats are not inherently wrong.  Rather the system is unfairly structured to punish students who do not conform, and that equity is necessary to right these wrongs.