Committee for Children Blog

Addressing Exclusionary Discipline Reform

kids sitting and reading together

We’re committed to improving specific issues related to our priority areas—social-emotional learning (SEL), child protection, and bullying prevention—that disproportionately impact the Black community and communities of color. Each month, our policy experts will answer questions relating to these priority areas and racial equity, starting with exclusionary discipline reform.

What is exclusionary discipline?
Exclusionary discipline is a response to student behavior that physically excludes students from the school or classroom.

How does exclusionary discipline disproportionately impact marginalized students? 
Zero-tolerance policies are typically found to increase use of exclusionary discipline, which disproportionately impacts Black students over white students.1 Zero-tolerance and exclusionary discipline policies have negative consequences for student academic achievement, attainment, and well-being, and particularly impact students of color, students with disabilities, and students of other marginalized groups.2,3 The Obama administration’s discipline guidelines addressed this issue, and trends at that time suggested that schools became safer,4 leading many states and districts to adopt non-exclusionary discipline policies and practices. However, the Trump administration rescinded those guidelines in 2018. That same year, Committee for Children published a brief on these state legislative trends here.

What might policy reform look like?
There are research-based policies and practices that can be used to replace exclusionary discipline.5,6 For example, teaching social-emotional skills to all students can foster positive relationship-building and conflict-management skills. This skill-building can coincide with more targeted behavioral supports for at-risk students, which can then fit into a tiered system of student supports. Rhode Island and West Virginia, for example, use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and comprehensive mental health support systems to reduce rates of exclusionary discipline. Schools can also center programming around relationships between students, educators, and the community, strengthening family and community engagement.

Why does this matter to educators and their students?
Addressing exclusionary discipline reform is critical to ensure students have equitable access to their education and to supports along the way. Exclusionary discipline disproportionately impacts Black students, and the education community must implement policies and practices to work against this ongoing disenfranchisement. Further, policy reforms should strengthen supports for students’ academic and life-long success.

How has Committee for Children advocated exclusionary discipline reform?

Over the last several years, we’ve supported bills that would:

  • Replace exclusionary discipline with research-based strategies, including SEL (for example, the PUSHOUT Act of 2019).
  • Develop restorative practices aligned with SEL. Committee for Children has supported more than 100 bills that relate to restorative practices at both state and federal levels to help make school a place of belonging, healing, and learning for all students. For example, in 2020, New Jersey introduced a bill that proposed establishing a Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program with the goals to reduce racial disparities in school discipline and improve social-emotional and behavioral responses.
  • Provide support to educators for positive classroom management, including training on asset-based youth development, trauma-informed practices, and SEL. This will help ensure educators are confident using tools that replace exclusionary discipline methods. For example, in 2019, we advocated reauthorizing the Higher Education Act to the Senate through a sign-on letter written with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

How do I get involved?

Study Up
Check out the National Clearinghouse on Supportive School Discipline for resources to reduce practices of exclusionary discipline.

Take Action
Sign up to receive action alerts specific to your state from our Policy and Advocacy Team.

1 Curran, F.C. (2016). Estimating the effect of state zero tolerance laws on exclusionary discipline, racial discipline gaps, and student behavior. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(4), 647–668.

2 Cardichon, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2019). Protecting students’ civil rights: The federal role in school discipline. Learning Policy Institute.

3 Kostyo, S., Cardichon, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2018). Making ESSA’s equity promise real: State strategies to close the opportunity gap: Reducing student suspension rates (research brief). Learning Policy Institute.

4 Cardichon, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2019). Protecting students’ civil rights: The federal role in school discipline. Learning Policy Institute.

5 Cardichon, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2019). Protecting students’ civil rights: The federal role in school discipline. Learning Policy Institute.

6 Colombi, G., & Osher, D. (2015). Advancing school discipline reform. Education Leaders Report, 1(2). National Association of State Boards of Education.