Center on Race and Social Problems

Bridge to Suspensions article in Heinz Endowments Magazine December 2019

The December 2019 magazine of the Heinz Endowments has an article on the Just Discipline project led by Interim Center Director Dr. James Huguley.

The Just Discipline Project's restorative approach to addressing student behavior helps to build healthy interpersonal relationships and a positive school culture as well as providing discipline alternatives.  Practices include regular group discussions known as "healing circles" that are organized to encourage students to air negative emotions and share interpersonal conflicts. In addition, more light-hearted events are offered, such as "Jeopardy!" style quiz games and activities inspired by the House Cup Challenges from the "Harry Potter" series.

Dr. Huguley states that exclusionary discipline measures such as removing a student from the classroom only have the effect of further alienating troubled students, leading to escalating infractions and escalating punishments, including suspensions and expulsion.  Data suggests that minority students are much more likely to be caught in the vicious cycle.  According to Heinz Endowments-funded research by Dr. Huguley and his team at the Center, African American Students are, on average, seven times more likely to be suspended than their white peers across the Pittsburgh region.  Thirty-seven out of 51 school districts in Allegheny County have suspension rates for black students that are at least double the rate of their non-black peers.  As Dr. Huguley explains, the data is troubling, because "suspension and expulsion are the gateways to the school-to-prison-pipeline."  The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the national phenomenon wherein exclusionary discipline policies in primary and secondary schools lead students to have increased likelihood of entering the juvenile justice system.