How Are States Shifting School Discipline Policies?


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It is perhaps an understatement to say that school discipline is a hot topic these days. State policymakers, educators and parents across the country are concerned with the potential negative impacts of exclusionary and punitive discipline, especially as these practices often impact students of color and students with disabilities at greater rates.

Here at Education Commission of the States, we get a ton of requests for information on school discipline issues. Usually, state policymakers want to learn from other states by figuring out what has worked — and what hasn’t — on topics ranging from corporal punishment to restorative justice in schools. Of all the questions we receive, three topics have been the most popular: suspension and expulsion, alternative school discipline strategies, and restraint and seclusion.

To help state policymakers learn from one another, we created three Policy Snapshots that provide a brief overview of each of these topics, along with information on state policy action over the last few years:

  • The snapshot on suspensions and expulsions shows that most states are focusing on four areas of action: restricting the use of suspension and expulsion by grade level and type of infraction, limiting the length of suspension, requiring reporting and supporting student re-engagement. In 2017 alone, at least 18 states proposed legislation in one or more of these focus areas.
  • Many states are exploring alternatives to exclusionary and punitive discipline by leaning toward a more supportive discipline model. Our alternative school discipline strategies snapshot highlights trends in the use of restorative practices and positive behavioral supports and interventions around the country.
  • Students with disabilities are subjected to restraint and seclusion at much higher rates than their non-disabled peers. In this snapshot, we focused on reforms to state policies dealing with restraint and seclusion and found that at least 19 states introduced legislation on this topic in 2017. Enacted legislation over the last few years generally limits the use of these practices — except in cases of immediate danger — and requires reporting when the practices are used.

We hope these snapshots will help provide context for current school discipline conversations happening at the local, state and national levels. Feel free to check them out and reach out to us with any questions!

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Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States |

Alyssa Rafa is a former senior policy analyst at Education Commission of the States.

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