School discipline reform is of growing interest to policymakers as ongoing research reveals the negative effects of current school discipline policies. In the U.S., the most popular models of school discipline use exclusionary practice, which includes suspension and expulsion. Studies have shown that exclusionary discipline contributes to undesired social outcomes such as poor academic performance, school drop out, unemployment, and even incarceration. Additionally, exclusionary discipline and its negative consequences disproportionately affect racial minorities and other vulnerable groups of students. Reform of current state policy is a necessary first step toward implementing alternative discipline practice in schools. In 2012 Massachusetts legislature passed Chapter 222 with the intent to reduce overall use of exclusion and disparities associated with its inequitable use. In the summer of 2014 the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education implemented regulations based on the law change. Regulations include changes in due process for exclusion for emergency removal for part of a school day, changes in reporting that designate exclusion as long term more rapidly, required educational service for students serving long term suspension, and interventions for schools that consistently report inequitable rates of discipline between groups of students.
This study explores the policy’s early impact on discipline rates, particularly disparate rates between white and racial minority students and between the general student population and students with disabilities. It also investigates possible disparity in discipline rates of public charter and district schools and seeks evidence of whether schools are moving away from exclusionary models to alternative discipline models. Statistical analysis of annual state and case studies of school handbook policies are the two methods used in the study. Results show that downward trends in some exclusions started before the policy change, some exclusions increased immediately after the policy change, inequitable rates between student groups are persistent, and the rates of discipline in charter and district schools are very disparate. Given the inconsistent results and lack of apparent evidence that schools are practicing alternatives to exclusion, it is recommended that Massachusetts bolster its new regulations to better achieve its equity goals.