Minnesota Alliance with Youth

Youth testimonials on Exclusionary Discipline Policies: Bridging Experience and Data

Minnesota has huge disparities in the application of exclusionary disciplinary policies.

  • Black youth are 7 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students.
  • Native youth are 6.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students.
  • Youth in Special Education are almost 5.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than General Education students.

Not only are suspensions and expulsions disproportionately applied, but the majority of suspensions in the state of Minnesota from 2012-2013 were for minor, non-violent student behaviors that did not endanger others (Minnesota Department of Education, 2014).  The decision to suspend or expel is often swayed by racial biases.

Suspensions and expulsions take away valuable academic engagement time from students. During the 2011-2012 school year, 3.45 million students were estimated to have lost instructional time due to out-of-school suspensions (Skiba & Rausch, 2005). In 2012-2013, 84% of all disciplinary actions taken by school administrators in Minnesota public schools were out-of-school suspensions, resulting in 45,964 suspensions and 109,495 missed instructional days (Minnesota Department of Education, 2014).

In continuation of last month’s GradMinnesota Newsletter feature School-wide Restorative Culture: A Conversation with Alexis Goffe, we are spotlighting students from Paladin Career and Technical High School who were interviewed by Alexis about  their experience with exclusionary disciplinary policies and restorative culture.  These testimonials provide context for the data, showing the lived experiences of young people.

Q: When do you feel most comfortable, able to learn, and yourself at school?

A: “When I know at least one adult gets me. If something happens I can go to them.” “Sometimes I don’t need advice, I need [adults] to listen.” “I know other students who don’t come to school because there is drama. I used to be like that but here I feel safe because I know the stories.”

Q: What’s the best thing a school can do for you?

A: “Understand their students.” “Let us be.” “Stop acting like you didn’t make mistakes when you were in school.” “We have [stuff] going on too.” “Protect. Not be real life. Home is real life, the streets are real life, JDC (Juvenile Detention Center) is real. School is my only break.”

Q: How have restorative practices impacted you?

A: “I used to think that when I [messed] up, it didn’t affect anyone else.  When I [mess] up here, my circle is affected.”

Q: How have exclusionary disciplinary policies affected you?

A: “I have never been in the same school for a full year.” “I was supposed to graduate last year. I probably won’t graduate until 2019.” “I was suspended a lot for smoking cigarettes.”  “I was suspended for trying to break up a fight.” “I’m not going to graduate when I am 18. I’m so behind that I’m here because I have to be.”

Q: If you’ve attended other schools, how have your experiences at Paladin been different from the other schools? 

A: “[Alexis] asked me about my smoking and how Paladin should handle students who smoke cigarettes. I was sure I was going home when you saw me smoking.”  “Staff at Paladin try to understand why we did what we did. They want to talk A LOT. At [my other schools] they didn’t care.”  “I never cared about how anyone felt when I [messed] up. Now I know [my advisor] and my circle will be affected when I do dumb [stuff]. I still do dumb [stuff] but I try to do it less.”

One of the students interviewed noted that he was suspended repeatedly for being absent. When he came to Paladin, he and his mother shared that he had missed school due to anxiety and bullying, not because he was lazy or defiant. Now this student is 2 years behind in school. These statements show the complexities and stressors that many of our young people are dealing with on a daily basis. Goffe strongly advocates for school staff using restorative practices rather than overtly or inadvertently pushing young people out of school.  They deserve learning environments, educators, and administrators that work to keep them in the classroom and learning.  Fostering a community in which all are heard and in which all feel safe and supported is the only sustainable way to help ensure all young people stay in the classroom and find their success.

To learn more about Alternatives to Exclusionary Discipline Practices and Policies, visit: https://mnyouth.net/work/gradminnesota/resourcelibrary/effective-alternatives/

A big thank you to  Alexis Goffe, Dean of Student at Paladin, for his time and thoughtfulness in speaking with students about their school experiences!