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Achieving Racial Equity in Disciplinary Policies and Practices

Ashlee Lester (PhD Student, VCU Educational Psychology) presents research
from the MERC Discipline Study at the 2017 MERC Conference


Study Update 3.21.18

Why do racial disparities in school
disciplinary practices exist? 


This mixed-method study seeks to understand the factors that lead to disproportionate school discipline outcomes. The project was commissioned by the Policy and Planning Council in September of 2015. The study team was identified and began its work in the fall of 2016. The research questions and research plan were approved by the Policy and Planning Council in May of 2016. It is expected that the final report for the study will be published in the fall of 2018. 

There are two phases to this study. In the first phase we use maps to compare regional data on school discipline outcomes with community data and the results of a survey of building leaders about the design and implementation of discipline programs. In this phase, we are interested in understanding the relationship between discipline models (e.g., PBIS, restorative practices, trauma-informed care) and discipline rates across racial ethnic groups, and students with special education classifications. In the second phase of the study, we use the results from phase one to identify secondary school sites for case study. Through observation, interviews, and focus groups, the research team will learn about the school-level factors that influence the successful implementation of discipline models. 

It is expected that the findings from this study will be used within the school systems for a variety of purposes. This includes informing professional development programs related to discipline practices as well as the possible development and evaluation of programs designed to address inequities in the system.



Research Team

Adai Tefera – Co-Principal Investigator, VCU

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley – Co-Principal Investigator, VCU

Jesse Senechal – Co-Principal Investigator, MERC, VCU

David Naff - Co-Principal Investigator, MERC, VCU

Ashlee Lester – Graduate Research Assistant, VCU

Rachel Levy – Graduate Research Assistant, VCU

Zoey Lu – Graduate Research Assistant, VCU

Study Team

Marcie Terry - Assistant Principal
Chesterfield County Public Schools

Tameshia Grimes – Director of Equity and Student Support Services
Chesterfield County Public Schools

Chad Knowles – Coordinator of Constituent Services and Student Leadership
Chesterfield County Public Schools

Amanda Pelter – Teacher
Colonial Heights Public Schools

Christin East – Division Coordinator of Student Programming 
Goochland County Public Schools

Brian Maltby - Disciplinary Hearing Review Officer
Hanover County Public Schools

Robert Staley – Director of Secondary Education
Hanover County Public Schools

Diane Joyner – Educational Specialist Research
Henrico County Public Schools

William Noel Sr. – Director of Student Support and Disciplinary Review
Henrico County Public Schools

Kris Gwaltney – Discipline Officer & Director of Transportation
Powhatan County Public Schools

Robin Dalton – Hearing Officer
Richmond City Public Schools

Harry Morgan III – Manger Pupil Placement
Richmond City Public Schools 

To hear more about the study from members of the study team check out Episode One and Episode Three of Abstract!

Listen to Ram Bhagat talk about promoting "massive resilience" in students in East Richmond.  


Smith, E. J. & Harper, S. R. (2015). Disproportionate impact of K-12 school suspension and expulsion on Black students in southern states. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.