Statement of purpose Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students are more likely than White students to face harsher disciplinary policies and practices in schools.1 Such institutional-level policies interact with micro-level forces of racism, increasing the likelihood of race-related traumatic stress2. This study aimed to characterize the experiences of discipline disparities, based on the perspectives of parents/guardians, staff, and students of color. Findings informed the adaptation of a culturally- responsive school-based intervention to address race-related traumatic stress.
Methods/Approach Nine focus groups were conducted with parents/guardians (n=12), school staff (n=27), and students of color aged 11–14 years (n=24) from 12 schools to inform the adaptation of the intervention. Participants were asked open-ended questions about trauma, racism, school support, and intervention recommendations. For this study, transcripts were coded and thematically analyzed to identify factors related to racial disparities in discipline.
Results Racial disparities in disciplinary norms and policing in schools were the two primary themes identified. Parents discussed punitive disciplinary responses to typical behavior, and the resulting family mistrust. Students and staff identified and compared experiences in disciplinary action among students, noting that Black students were disciplined more harshly, relative to White students. Participants also recommended greater parental involvement in disciplinary decisions, conflict de- escalation in classrooms to prevent further disciplinary action, and mitigating interpersonal racism and stereotypes.
Conclusion Interventions aimed at reducing school violence among students of color should address race-based traumatic stress related to disparities in school disciplinary norms, expectations, and actions. Our findings suggest the need to prioritize cultural humility among teachers and staff, alongside stronger school and family relationships.
Significance Discipline disparities correlate with disparities in academic attrition, emotional/behavioral problems, violence victimization, delinquency, incarceration, and recidivism3. Understanding stakeholder perspectives and experiences surrounding discipline disparities can inform targeted interventions designed to address the consequences of race-based traumatic stress, discrimination, and violence disparities in schools.
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