AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE SUBJECTIVE EXCLUSIONARY DISCIPLINE PRACTICES IN A LARGE SCHOOL DISTRICT
Walls, Anita C
The problem investigated for this dissertation was the overuse of exclusionary discipline practices across a large, suburban school district adjacent to a major metropolitan area. The purpose of this descriptive, mixed methods study was to examine within five elementary schools if and how student discipline referrals varied across the subgroups of grade, race/ethnicity, and gender, and the reasons teachers gave for subjective discipline referrals. In addition, this study inquired into principals’ processes for determining when a subjective student discipline referral warrants a suspension, and how their perspectives, beliefs, and experiences influence their use of exclusionary discipline actions. Student discipline referrals and suspension data were collected and reviewed from five elementary schools in Success Public Schools, as well as interviews from the principals in the identified schools. The findings from the examination of the sampling of classroom referrals and suspension data revealed that African American male students had two to three times as many student discipline referrals and suspensions as African American females in each school. Across the total population of all five schools for student discipline referrals, there were 49% for subjective offenses and 51% for objective offenses. In addition to examining the student discipline referrals, this study also investigated the principals’ beliefs. All of the principals who were interviewed for this study reported that they believe that suspensions should be implemented as a last resort and that alternatives should be considered, such as the following: after school detention, positive behavior intervention supports, and restorative practices. This study confirms and highlights that students who are referred for subjective discipline offenses are suspended from school about half of the time. In addition, descriptions of behaviors that triggered a discipline referral for a subjective offense reveal that the interpretation of student behaviors heavily relies on teachers’ judgements and their perceptions of what constitutes disrespect and disruption. Moreover, the study revealed that how administrators respond to subjective student discipline referrals varied from school to school.