An update on school disciplinary practices in Arkansas

We all want Arkansas schools to be safe, healthy, and orderly environments so every student can learn and thrive. And kids need clear expectations for behavior and logical consequences to grow academically and learn from their mistakes.  

However, Arkansas’s outdated school discipline policies and practices can create more problems than they solve. Harsh, arbitrary, or “zero tolerance” policies often defy common sense, and the more often students are sent out of the classroom or are spanked at school, the further they fall behind.  

Research shows that in- or out-of-school suspensions and corporal punishment (spanking) are not only ineffective at improving student behavior and school culture but also have negative long-term effects on mental health, graduation rates, overall academic success, and preparation for the workforce. While school discipline practices in Arkansas and across the country disproportionally impact Black other students of color, students with disabilities are also more likely to experience corporal punishment or restraining practices than their peers without disabilities.  

Acting out in class is often an indicator that a student is struggling either at home or academically. When these students are sent to in-school or out-of-school suspension or spanked, it becomes even more difficult for them to keep up with classwork and stay in school. Students who are expelled are at disproportionately greater risk of not going back to school and graduating. This is even more true for foster care students and students with disabilities. 

Ineffective school discipline also takes an emotional toll on kids at a time when their brains are still developing, and they need extra guidance. It can be especially harmful for students who have experienced trauma or have special developmental or emotional needs. In fact, Arkansas ranks 43rd in the percentage of children who have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse and neglect (22%). Unfortunately, these are usually the kids who are disciplined the most harshly. They also face barriers to getting the kind of counseling and mentoring that would address the root of behavior problems and help kids make better decisions.  

While school districts themselves do not receive special funding for school discipline, they are required to report data on their practices. The University of Arkansas’s Office of Education Policy puts out an annual report that analyzes the data from each school district. School Districts must report the number of infractions in several categories.  

In the chart here you can see the five-highest reported infractions from the last four academic years. In terms of frequency, the most common type of infraction is labeled “other.” This is where miscellaneous infractions get categorized and can include things like: stealing/theft, harassment/sexual harassment, terroristic threats, public displays of affection, cyberbullying, and cell phones.  

Infraction Type Frequency during the 2018-2019 school year Frequency during the 2019-2020 school year Frequency during the 2020-2021 school year Frequency during the 2021-2022 school year 
Other 131,823 88,015 49,527 93,168 
Disorderly Conduct 61,566 42,457 24,616 41,939 
Insubordination 42,161 29,151 15,525 26,6767 
Fighting 19,163 13,146 8,356 17,515 
Truancy 15,960 10,284 7,694 15,601 
Source: https://oep.uark.edu/2022-arkansas-discipline-report/

Looking at consequences, the chart here displays their frequency from the last four academic years.i Once again, the “other” category is the most reported on average. In this section, “other” can refer to consequences like detention, warning, bus suspension, Saturday school, and a parent conference. Over time, there has been a steady decline in reported reliance on out-of-school suspension and corporal punishment, while “other” consequences have steadily increased. 

Consequence Type Frequency during the 2018-2019 school year Frequency during the 2019-2020 school year Frequency during the 2020-2021 school year Frequency during the 2021-2022 school year 
Expulsion 913 421 169 626 
Out of School Suspension 50,125 29,467 17,541 40,999 
In School Suspension 104,221 69,917 42,426 76,597 
Alternative Learning Environments 290 264 180 326 
Corporal Punishment 13,228 5,239 3,253 4,047 
Other 120,956 90,142 51,785 91,134 
Source: https://oep.uark.edu/2022-arkansas-discipline-report/

The data also shows serious inequities in school discipline. Over the last two academic years, 23% of all infractions reported for Black students resulted in exclusionary discipline, which is high relative to only about 13% of white students. Black students in the state are still overrepresented both in terms of referrals and in terms of the consequence of an exclusionary measure.  

Lastly, what we saw during the pandemic was the number of exclusionary discipline actions decreasing, but now we are seeing a return to higher rates of exclusionary discipline for all racial groups, even above pre-pandemic levels.  

To find out what your student’s school district’s discipline policy is, you can visit their website and it’s usually found under a tab called “state required information” or in the student handbook. Understanding your school district’s school discipline policy is a great first step and could help you advocate for your child one day.  

In the next blog we will look specifically at corporal punishment as a disciplinary practice.