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Suspensions and Expulsions: Impact on the Learning Environment

May 20, 2013 -- 7:41 am
Written by Chris Huzinec - Review360 Director of Research
Posted on May 16, 2013 at 2:31 pm.
Summary of Research and Policy Article: Out-of-School Suspension and Expulsion by American Academy of Pediatrics Council of School Health, 2013

In order to provide the foundation for optimal learning, students and educators require an educational environment free of disruptive behaviors which is conducive to both teaching and learning. The responsibility of facilitating and securing this environment often falls under the purview of school discipline management systems or models. Specifically, school disciplinary systems, when systemically implemented, are used to prevent incidents that could threaten the safety of students and educators, create a climate conducive to instruction and learning, instruct students in social expectations and skills, and establish disciplinary interventions which effectively reduce the rates of future disruptive behaviors (Skiba & Rausch, 2006).

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published a research- based policy article to present their informed position on the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsion as a means of establishing and maintaining discipline in our schools. In reviewing the research on the subject, the AAP puts forth the rationale for employing suspension and expulsion policies as a way to promote a safe environment for students and staff by decreasing violent behavior, combating statutorily criminal activities, and to act as a deterrent by discouraging inappropriate behavior and limiting its influence on others. The AAP goes on to discuss the relationship between the increased use of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and Zero Tolerance policies, specifically citing the use of such disciplinary actions as theoretically fair but harsh and inflexible measures to address disruptive student behaviors. Unfortunately, in reviewing the research, the AAP found that these policies have been implemented unevenly resulting in a disproportionate number of minorities and special education students being suspended or expelled under these policies. Additionally, the research indicates that a negative relationship exists between the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions and student academic performance as well as student and staff perceptions of school climate.

The AAP further reviews the disadvantages of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for the student and his/her family and to the school district. The results of research studies indicate that students involved in the juvenile justice system are more likely to have been suspended or expelled and that students who are expelled are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of school than students who have not. School districts are at a disadvantage because of these policies because they are often superficially applied without addressing the underlying behavioral issues affecting the student or the student environment. While the rationale for using out-of-school suspensions and expulsions is to act as a deterrent, studies have shown that past suspensions and expulsions are predictive of comparable disciplinary actions in the future. Likewise, suspensions and expulsions are perceived indicators of negative school climate.

The AAP identified three strategies supported by research which schools can employ to reduce out-of-school suspensions and expulsions through proactive practices:

early intervention programs for preschool children
early identification of students at-risk for school difficulties and interventions before problem behaviors occur
the implementation of clear, consistent, and carefully taught age-appropriate behavioral expectations, standards, and supports for students to use before they engage in disruptive behaviors.
Additionally, the authors suggest that School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) represent an evidence-based best practice in reducing suspensions and expulsions. These systems of positive behavior support proactively and comprehensively provide schools with methods to establish behavioral standards as preventive measures, multi-tiered support for students as an alternative to suspensions and expulsions, and data collecting processes to be used in the data driven decision making process.

The AAP concludes the article with a list of recommendations for its membership in working with school districts to reduce suspensions and expulsions:

Pediatricians should screen for and recognize early childhood and preschool behavior and refer at-risk children to age-appropriate resources;
As a primary care physician to school-aged children who are exhibiting problem behaviors, pediatricians should open the lines of communication with the students’ schools in order to work together to consistently provide strategies and interventions;
Pediatricians should familiarize themselves with safeguards provided by the IDEA for students served in Special Education;
Pediatricians should familiarize themselves with local school districts’ policies regarding student discipline and act as an advocate for policies that focus on proactive strategies and alternatives to out-of-school suspensions and expulsions; and
Pediatricians should increase their capacity in working with school districts to help in the development and implementation of policies to establish best practices in behavioral support.

American Academy of Pediatrics Council of School Health (2013). Out-of-School Suspension and Expulsion. Pediatrics, 131, 1000-1007.

Skiba RJ, and Rausch MK (2006). Zero tolerance, suspension and expulsion: questions of equity and effectiveness. In: Evertson CM, Weinstein CS, eds. Handbook of Classroom Management: Research, Practice and Contemporary Issues. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; 1063-1089

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