School Discipline Practices: A Public Health Crisis and Opportunity for Reform

Early childhood education sets the foundation for a student’s future well-being and success. However, the widespread use of exclusionary school discipline (ESD) aggravates pre-existing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and deprives students of essential opportunities for learning and growth. Examples of harmful and counterproductive ESD practices include suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and corporal punishment. These practices can compound feelings of isolation and fear, increase stress, and deepen mistrust between students and educators.

Children of color continue to be pushed out of schools at higher rates than other students. As early as preschool, Black students face harsher and more frequent punishment than their white peers. The very students who are disproportionately targeted by harsh and unfair school discipline policies are also more likely to face adversity and toxic stress outside of school.

The good news is that schools can begin to reverse this deep-seated public health and civil rights crisis by embracing impactful reforms that create a culture of belonging and respect, fostering students’ connection to their schools. ChangeLab Solutions created School Discipline Practices: A Public Health Crisis and an Opportunity for Reform to closely examine the connection between ACEs and ESD practices and present an alternative vision for schools. This vision is grounded in evidence-based practices that improve learning environments, build children’s resilience, and promote healthy development of the whole child.