Empty Seats: Addressing the Problem of Unfair School Discipline for Boys of Color

by Rhonda Bryant

Dec 4, 2013

Boys of color are impacted more heavily by harsh discipline policies in schools – also referred to as "zero tolerance" policies – than their white peers. This disparate treatment has consequences for students' lifelong outcomes. As schools seek to lower dropout rates and improve graduation rates, they must evaluate the role of discipline reform in keeping boys of color connected to school and learning.
  • Over time, schools and districts have utilized tactics like out-of-school suspension, expulsion, school-based arrest, and transfer to alternative education settings for increasingly less severe infractions and have relied more heavily on police presence to maintain order on campuses.
  • Harsh discipline policies have failed to yield safer schools, instead damaging school climate and dampening the achievement of students.
  • Compelling research refutes the notion that males of color commit more school infractions than their white peers; however, they are more likely to be subject to disciplinary action than other students who display the same behavior.
  • Two alternative models to harsh discipline that are demonstrating success are Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and restorative practices.