Safe & Just Schools: Discipline Reform

Legislation | 01/21/2021

Rebecca Gau
Executive Director

Over the last 10 years, Stand for Children Arizona has been working to ensure that all students receive a quality education. We have found that one of the most important issues in this effort is education equity.

Far too often, the potential of some students is overlooked because of skin color, zip code, first language, or disability.

Today in Arizona, harsh and outdated discipline policies are pushing out students from the classroom and worsening the disparity. Simply put, students cannot learn when they are pushed out and barred from coming to school.

The evidence could not be more clear. According to 2020 Children’s Equity Project Report from Bipartisan Policy Center, expelled and suspended students are more likely to get held back a grade, end up in juvenile detention or just drop out altogether.  

Further, dropping out of high school makes you three times more likely to get arrested and deal with the criminal justice system. 

A 2018 study published under the Sociology of Education, found that suspension result in exclusion and emotional disengagement from school. Suspended students tend to have lower school trust and social belonging. Suspensions are also associated with later emotional disengagement from school. Especially for young students, suspension can deeply impact them and launch a vicious cycle of mistrust and stereotyping in some school relationships.  

According to the 2020 Children’s Equity Project Report from Bipartisan Policy Center, policies that push out students from school are detrimental and ineffective. First, there is no evidence that it works, while there is abundant evidence that it has negative effects on students. On top of everything we’ve already mentioned, it is also associated with harm to children’s brain development. 

If this weren’t bad enough, we have evidence that these harsh punishments are primarily impacting students of color. Black, Native American, and Hispanic students miss disproportionately more days of school than their white counterparts due to suspension. 



Arizona needs to take meaningful steps to remedy these inequities in education. Stand AZ is working to reform school "push-out" and ineffective “zero tolerance” policies to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn and grow.  

Most importantly, we need to limit expulsions and suspensions for young students, 4th grade and under, except in specified extreme circumstances.  

A great example of this is HB 2125, which allows school districts and charter schools to suspend a student in preschool through fourth grade only if the student is engaged in behavior that:  

  • Involves possession of a dangerous weapon,  

  • Involves possession, use, or sale of a dangerous drug or narcotic drug, OR  

  • Immediately endangers the health or safety of others.  

Additionally, HB 2125 requires schools to, if feasible, explore alternate behavioral and disciplinary interventions and to establish policies for potential readmission of suspended or expelled students.  

Another possible reform includes internal review of “disproportionate discipline” at the district level. That is, a self-reflection exercise examining whether students of color are punished more frequently or more harshly than their peers, as the data above suggests. This analysis should inspire local districts to revise their policies and procedures. 

We believe that every student deserves a fair and inclusive system that gives them every opportunity to succeed in life, especially in those early years where so much is at stake in their development.  

Will you join us? Please let us know what you think by filling out this survey, and if you or someone you know has experienced this issue, we’d love to hear from you! 

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