School Discipline Policies

School discipline laws regulate the use of exclusionary discipline for students, such as expulsion and suspension from school. These laws typically determine the types of behavior that either require or allow expulsion or suspension, minimum and maximum lengths of exclusion from the classroom, alternatives to exclusionary discipline, and reporting requirements.

There has been a recent trend in the United States toward reevaluating school discipline policies that depend on expulsion or suspension. Studies show that students of color are disciplined and taken out of class at higher rates than their white peers, and black students are more likely to be punished for subjective offenses like "defiance." An analysis by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights shows black or African-American students represented 19% of students in preschool but 47% of preschool children receiving one or more out of school suspensions.  These disparities persist through 12th grade, with black or African American students representing 15% of students yet 33% of expulsions, and put African-American students at higher risk for future involvement with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.

The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) asks states to address exclusionary school discipline practices. 27 states have revised their laws with the intention of reducing expulsions and suspensions, and several states have banned exclusionary discipline for certain grade levels. For more information about ESSA requirements and possible approaches to improve key equity indicators, see the Learning Policy Institute’s 2018 report.

Communities looking for information about racial inequity in local suspension rates may find this mapping tool, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, helpful. The Education Commission of the States also has a resource highlighting attempts and successes in passing school discipline reforms across the country.

This map identifies and displays key features of state-level school discipline laws in effect from January 1, 2008 to June 1, 2018 across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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