For the purpose of this study, the review
of related literature focused on the
effectiveness of suspension and expulsion and
their effects on students, parents, schools, and the community. It has been established
that the right to an education in Puerto
Rico is constitutional and fundamental. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that Section 5 of Article II of the
Constitution consecrates the right to an education as a fundamental and constitutional right (Pagán vs. Universidad de
PR, 107 DPR 720, 1978).
An educational institution that is funded
or supported by the state has the legal obligation to offer education to all those who seek it. The Constitution requires
that if an institution is to deprive students of an education, it must do so following established legal procedures (Pagán
vs. Universidad de PR, supra, P. 741, 1978).
satisfy the demands of proper legal procedures, every type of available procedure should guarantee: (1) adequate notice, (2)
a trial before an impartial judge, (3) a hearing, (4) the right to question the witnesses and to examine the evaluation presented,
(5) counsel assistance, and (6) assurance that the decision be based on the students’ track record (Rivera Rodríguez vs. Stowell Taylor, 1990).
with the above, it has been established that in cases related to sanctions or punishment such as expulsion, suspension or
the transfer of a student, it is required that legal procedures be adopted. That constitutional guarantee requires
notification of specific charges and the opportunity for
a hearing before carrying out the expulsion in an improper manner. The law has guaranteed the mandatory notification of charges
and trial when public school students are faced with possible temporary expulsion (Pagán vs. Universidad de PR, supra,
Does Suspension and Expulsion Work?
Lipsett (1999) reported that the implementation of
the zero-tolerance policy had caused a 50 percent reduction in the average number of serious incidents such as possession
of guns, drugs or fights in schools. She also reported that there was an increase in the number of less serious crimes, such
as verbal abuse.
Education Testing Service (1999) reported that schools that applied more severe penalties had fewer incidents of serious violations.
However, they also generated more incidents of a less serious nature. According to the National
Center on Education Statistics (1998), schools with lower rates of inappropriate
behaviors did not apply zero-tolerance policies.
According to Skiba and Peterson (1999), the use of
zero-tolerance policies has not made the schools safer, even though they have been in effect for four years. These schools
remained unsafe compared to other schools that do not have zero-tolerance policies in place.
Skiba and Peterson (1999) also maintain that suspension
is one of the ways in which schools eliminate troublesome students. Students who are expelled from school often have more
serious problems on the streets. Other studies show that zero-tolerance policies only increase the number of students who
are suspended and expelled from school (Horner and Horner, 2000). When zero-tolerance policies are not combined with alternate
programs such as alternative education, intensive and multiple services, and other educational support systems, problems will
be shifted from the school to the community.
(1995) talks about a “middle ground” or an “alternate procedure” for dealing with and resolving what
have become known as zero-tolerance policies. School administrators should conduct initial investigations and consider alternative
solutions, unless there is an immediate threat to school safety.
In addition, automatic suspension, as a sanction for
serious offenses is not the final alternative to stop school violence. Automatic suspensions should require additional resources
to provide other agencies and families the support that juveniles need (Skiba 1999).
The media has reported that zero-tolerance
policies are causing the expected changes. According to the National Post (2000), a boy from Philadelphia
was suspended for having a nail clipper. The report also said that students who “high five” each other would be
suspended in Fall River, Massachusetts. This means that
just a little fun and play in school was, in some instances, becoming a reason for suspension.
and Zeigler (1990) examined several alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Their only limitation was that there had been
very little research done on the subject (Educational Testing Service, 1999). For instance, it is very important to determine
if short detention or extra responsibilities, are capable of discouraging or preventing students from engaging in more serious
or aggressive behaviors.
Educational Testing Service (1999) analyzed student attitudes toward a series of offenses as well as several types of sanctions
used by U.S. schools. It discovered that a significant number
of students in the United States thought that the following
did not constitute misbehavior:
1. Not showing up for class (29%)
2. Copying assignments (29%)
3. Disrespecting a teacher (16%)
4. Breaking school policies (16%)
5. Committing fraud on tests (11%)
6. Racial slurs (5%)
7. Physical conflicts (8%)
This analysis also discovered that American students
were much more intolerant of serious aggressive behavior in school. About three
percent thought that it was permissible to sometimes or often bring weapons to school.
About two percent thought that destroying school property at times was permissible. Another one percent to two percent
thought that drinking and using drugs in school was permissible, and one percent thought that abusing teachers was permissible.
the Educational Testing Service (1999) found that preventive sanctions and discipline policies such as hall passes were associated
with lower levels of non-serious aggressiveness and did not have any effect on serious aggressors or even drug users.
In the case of the more disorderly students,
Horner and Horner (2000) suggest that specific alternative policies need to be created. Policies and procedures have been
suggested to include very fast, competent responses, stronger support for stronger behavior problems, and a “refinement
of adequate means” where schools are required to make time for every student.
to Kupper’s (1999), review of programs for students with chronic behavior problems, she states that policies should
1) formally assess the student and follow through, 2) coordinate multiple interventions, 3) address a number of related factors
as well as behaviors, 4) ensure the sustainability of programs, 5) coordinate proactive, corrective, and instructional strategies,
6) be developmentally appropriate, 7) include parent education and family therapy, 8) intervene in early childhood whenever
possible, 9) emphasize positive actions over punitive ones and, 10) be fair, consistent, and free of racial bias.
In order for school discipline policies
to be more efficient, each collaborator in the procedure has to be more involved not only in the disciplinary part, but also,
in the implementation of sanctions, maintaining positive school environments or guaranteeing school safety. According to Korsching,
Borsisch, and Steward (1992) the collaborators include students, teachers, school administrators, parents, the school district,
police, social workers, ministerial support, and other agencies.
Epstein (1991) suggests that it is also
imperative that parents increase their involvement in their children’s school life to reduce the possibility of dropping
out. She also calls for teachers to have an increasingly active relationship with students and their parents.
(1966) became interested in the study of how policies and institutions interact with families and children and began to see
the school as the place to improve the life chances for children from difficult home situations. Comer's School Development
Program is intended to improve the educational experience of poor minority youth. Supportive bonds among children, parents,
and school staff promote a positive school climate that leads to improvement. The School Development Program is designed to
create a school environment where children feel comfortable, valued, and secure. In this environment, children will form positive
emotional bonds with school staff and parents and a positive attitude toward the school program, which promotes the children's
overall development and, in turn, facilitates academic learning.
Controlling Dropout Rates
in Rural Areas
Controlling dropout rates in rural schools
requires an understanding of the specific problems faced there. Some of the most common reasons rural students give
for dropping out include disliking school and poor school performance. To understand why students drop out of school, it is
important to rely on information from different sources. There has been research done using interview and survey techniques,
for example, in which participants give their views and explanations related to the causes of dropping out. Two of the surveys conducted reflected that the most common answers to why students drop out were: disliking
school, low achievement grades, employment reasons, about to marry, unable to get along with school personnel, supporting
a family, other home affairs, pregnancy, expulsion or suspension. These were the reasons cited according to the High School
and Beyond Survey and the National Survey of Youth (Information adapted from Roderick, 1993, p. 27).
According to studies, students in rural areas are more likely not to reach their maximum potential, and it’s
more common among them to have low self-esteem, or to aspire to less (Bull et al., 1992; De Young, 1989; Elliot, 1988).
Elliot (1988) came to the conclusion, from teacher and principal interviews, that students in rural areas are more
at risk of dropping out of school because programs and services are not easily accessible to them. They do not have long-term goals, either. Another survey shows that the problem of low self-esteem of students
in rural areas needs to be addressed immediately (Bull et al., 1992).
According to Finn (1993), participation and involvement in school reduces behaviors that lead to dropping out of school.
School participation is divided into four levels. The first level occurs in the earliest years of school. It takes into account
students’ attendance at school, paying attention, and responding adequately to questions and directions.
In level two, students improve upon level one. They participate in school clubs, are responsive to teachers’
questions, and question themselves. They relate to teachers and classmates and concentrate more on their homework and class
In level three, students are encouraged to ask for help with class work. This occurs because students have learned
that school problems or situations can be resolved in a school setting. At this level, students are conscientious. They need
to seek help when required.
Level four cannot be attained in every school (Finn, 1993), yet this is the level that most helps students at risk.
This level has to do with the governing policies, student goals, and discipline. Misbehavior is reduced when students are
involved in school activities. According to Catterall (1986), the less involvement in school activities, the more likely students
are to drop out. Non-involvement will manifest itself in daydreaming, boredom, and not doing the assigned work.
is not just the student’s responsibility. It goes hand-in-hand with what is going on in the classroom and in the school.
This sense of belonging and involvement must be promoted and encouraged in the classroom and in the school so that the students
can conduct part of the class work, and become part of their educational setting.
If students are not paying attention in class, it is very unlikely that they will be involved in school. Paying attention
in class is the basis for school involvement (Finn, 1993). Students who are daydreamers in class or are not active in school
activities are at risk. They usually do not partake in sports or other activities outside of school (Bempechat & Ginsburg,
Absenteeism and being late often are two characteristics
that can lead to a student being disengaged or uninvolved in school. This can eventually lead to dropping out. Usually, dropouts
have had attendance problems since elementary school (Texas Education Agency, 1989). It is very likely and even predictable
that a student who is often absent will end up dropping out (Bryk & Thum, 1989). Roderick (1993) found that dropouts’
absenteeism increased by 10 or more days annually in high school compared to attendance in elementary school. The students
who did not do well in school had an increase of five days of absenteeism during the school year.
Suspension, absenteeism, or trouble with the law are factors that indicate that there is a higher than average chance
that a student will drop out (Texas Education Agency, 1991, pp.44, 51).
A critical fact is that dropouts make up 82 percent of jail prisoners in America
(Davis & McCaul, 1991, p.89). Misbehavior is a result of active disengagement.
This bad conduct fluctuates all the way from discipline problems to criminal behavior and is directly associated with at-risk
According to the Kids Count Data Book (1993), there has been a great increase in juvenile crime in children aged 10
to 17 from the years 1986 to 1991. This includes urban and rural areas. The same source states that violent deaths in teenagers
aged 15 to 19 increased from the 1980s through the 1990s in Arkansas, Louisiana,
New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In these same states of the Southwestern region, pregnancy among single teens has also increased. The teen pregnancy problem
is affected by marriage decisions, abortion, and bad relationships. Sexually transmitted diseases affect 2.5 million teenagers
yearly, according to Davis and McCaul (1991). Though more research should be conducted on how this affects at-risk students,
it is apparent that a teenager with a sexually transmitted disease or AIDS will have difficulty focusing on schoolwork.
Some dropout prevention programs prepare students for the job market (Roderick, 1993; Wehlage et al., 1989). Yet being
employed is one of the reasons given for dropping out. In the case of most Hispanics, working is a necessity. For others,
working is a way to get away from school (Roderick, 1993). The amount of hours spent working seriously affects the desire
to drop out of school, rather than just having a job.
According to Barro and Kolstadt (1987) working more than 10 hours weekly puts students at risk of doing poorly at school.
Catterall (1986) says working more than 15-20 hours weekly put students at risk.
Forty percent (40%) of teenage women drop out because of pregnancy or marriage (Earle & Roach, 1989; Sherman, 1987). In rural areas, women receive less medical attention in the early stage of pregnancy
than in urban areas (Hodgkinson, 1994).
Students who are not doing well in school are at risk of dropping out. Yet another problem is that not all of them
have been identified as such and therefore, have received no additional support or help in completing school (Frymier &
Roberson, 1990). The Texas Education Agency (1991) reported that a large number
of dropouts had not been identified as at-risk students while they were still in school.
Study results show that the grades of high school students who dropout decreased significantly just after the move
from elementary school to junior high and then again from junior high to high school (Roderick, 1991).
Studies show that in general, there is little difference between rural and urban students as far as their achievement
in school are concerned (Ferguson, 1991). This could be due to the fact that there
are three times the numbered of colleges in urban areas than there are in rural ones. In addition, rural students have fewer
chances of finding a good job if they don’t finish college than urban students (Hodgkinson, 1994). The reason, according
to Elliot (1988), is that there are limited offers of vocational training and job opportunities.
Low achievement is a definite way of identifying an at-risk student. “About half of those maintaining D averages
or lower typically dropout” (Catterall, 1986, p.9).
Students’ drug abuse influences their low achievement and eventually forces them to drop out. A study done by
the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (1991), suggests that in rural areas students prefer alcohol to drugs, whereas
in the larger communities students prefer drugs. However, drugs and alcohol are common in both communities.
High alcohol abuse in rural areas has been confirmed (Delgado & Rodriguez-Andrew, 1990). A study of 300 at-risk students in rural Tennessee showed
that 86 percent drink alcohol four times weekly and 73 percent use other drugs (Reddick & Peach, 1990).
Conflicts with teachers are given as a reason for dropping out (Roderick, 1993). Research shows that at-risk students
are treated differently from students with good grades.
These are some examples of the treatment toward at-risk students: they are not seated near the teacher, they are not
given direct instructions, they are not offered as many chances to learn new material, the questions asked mostly remained
at the level of knowledge/comprehension, they were not helped if they couldn’t answer a question, they were not encouraged
verbally, they were rewarded even if their conduct was not correct, they were frequently criticized, they were given minimal
feedback, they were often interrupted and they were paid less attention (Lehr & Harris, 1988).
Roderick, (1993) suggests that teachers’ behavior contributes to students being at risk, but school policies,
such as tolerating absenteeism are also to blame. In addition, other policies
intended to help students who misbehave have the opposite effects. Some of these
effects are getting left back, being suspended, failing courses, and ability grouping.
Getting left back (retention) for only one
year can be a sign leading to dropping out (Clark, 1991; Pallas, 1990; Bryk & Thum, 1989).
According to Slavin (1991), retention does not improve achievement. Roderick
(1993) reports that students who were promoted did better than students who were not in the year ahead of them. A one-year
retention increased the chances of dropping out by 40 to 50 percent.
According to Jolly & Deloney, (1993),
rural educators and parents find that their environment affects rural students and this makes them a target to become at-risk
students. It has been found, but not conclusively, that all students in an isolated community may be at a higher risk of not
achieving their potential, and that low self-esteem and lowered aspirations may be more pervasive among rural students.
The rural characteristics are economic instability
and difficult access to opportunities and services from rural locations. Communities
also play an important role in influencing students to learn and achieve success once they have become adults (Pallas, 1990;
Smith et al., 1991; Coleman & Hoffer, 1987). When students do not have support from the community, they are at risk of
failure in school, more so than students who have support.
It is easier to obtain community support for students in rural areas because they are small. Most of the people know
each other and this helps to develop support for each other. One example of this is Ryan White, who was not accepted in his
community of over 45,000 people when they found out he had HIV/AIDS, but who was allowed to attend school in a smaller community.
According to rural sociologists, the lack of combined skills of people in the community can influence students to be
at risk of failure (e.g. Smith et al., 1991; De Young, 1989).
Teachers and principals in rural districts found that
students in isolated communities are at a greater risk of not reaching their goals because of factors such as limited access
to student services and programs, a lack of cultural amenities and diversity, uncertainty about the future, a lack of role
models, and low self-esteem (Roderick, 1993; Elliot, 1988).
Catered, (1986) suggests possible alternatives to help
alleviate at-risk students’ problems:
programs for specifically targeted at-risk student populations
or actual dropouts.
2. Identifying and providing
help to at-risk students as early as possible.
3. Addressing academic
deficiencies through remediation.
4. Providing counseling
services to address negative attitudes.
There have been efforts to resolve the
problem of at-risk students. These have focused on areas that have had different degrees of success, such as programs specifically
designed for at-risk students, or identifying and helping at-risk students in a timely fashion. Another focus is on remediation.
According to Clark (1991), this tends to lower student expectations and achievements. The other focus
is on counseling services. Unfortunately, these do not exist everywhere and these that do exist are not functioning the way
Federal Law 107-110 (2001) emphasizes two areas that affect rural schools. One
is working with external and internal sources to offer a better education to the students.
Local help from those who want better education for students is needed in addition to federal and state assistance.
The second emphasis is on the incorporation of technology to eliminate community isolation of rural schools. Computers and other telecommunication technologies can be added to the school curriculum to improve education.
According to Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, and Fernandez, counseling at schools
is based on standard methods. Since students are not all the same, standard methods are of no real use. When counselors have
time to reach out to students, they don’t seem to be able to do much. Counselors have other responsibilities and don’t
dedicate enough time to the students. In addition to in-school resources, legislation can also show results. Federal legislation
that has had a particular impact on rural schools and communities is based on working in collaboration inside and outside
the school system to improve the quality of education. However, this can’t be done only on a federal level; it also
has to be a local or state level (Wehlage, 1989).
There are usually fewer financial and human resources
at small schools. Their costs may be higher because they try to bring many courses to fewer students. Legislative and educational
agencies are trying to alleviate this by joining these rural schools with other school districts nearby (Roderick, 1993).
The Goals 2000: Educate America Act 1994 (U.S. House of Representatives Report 103-446) is specifically focusing on
the factor of geographic location as one of the factors that lead students to drop out.
There is difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers. In
addition, and services are harder to access from rural locations.
Larger school districts have better financial and human
resources than rural or smaller schools. Some states have additional funding
for rural areas, but in most situations, resources that could be used to improve the quality of rural schools are transferred
to larger schools (Bull et al., 1992).
Geographic location in itself is singled out as an at-risk student variable by
a government publication, The Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 (United States House of Representatives Report 103-446).
It is difficult to encourage qualified teachers to go to remote rural areas and keep them.
It is almost impossible for rural schools to compete with city salaries and fringe benefits (Berkeley & Ludlow,
Federal Law 107-110 (2001) defines at-risk students
as those “who, because of limited English proficiency, poverty, race, geographic location, or economic disadvantage,
face a greater risk of low educational achievement or reduced academic expectations.”
Some think that students who come from other countries with different values, cultural backgrounds and skills are incapable
of meeting national school standards. Students in some schools have to deal not only with biased policies but also with negative
expectations and punitive environments.
The Puerto Rican Student Regulations (1996) established some norms to work with related to the student’s bad
behavior such as:
A norm of continuous critical inquiry – tends to encourage flexibility, creativity, and experimentation.
A norm of continuous improvement – open communication that promotes the
assessment strengths, weaknesses, and the on going exchange of ideas.
A widely shared vision – having a clear picture of what a school could be and
understanding of how to transform the school from its current state to its
A norm of involvement in making decisions – participation in decision making by all involved
is strongly recommended.
To involve parents in these efforts, educational administrators
need to be informed about parent views and perceptions of discipline. Friesen-Ford (1995) surveyed parents in Saskatchewan
about their opinions on student discipline. McCarthy (1995) has described how messages from home and school can become mixed.
Clancy (1992) and Rich (1985) have reflected upon parental perspectives about discipline.
The Right to An Education Under Federal Law
Parents and legal representatives of students who have
been suspended or expelled have taken their concerns to the court system. According to their position, suspension and expulsion
deprive students from the constitutional right to an education.
Suspension is related to dropout rates (Wehlage et al., 1989). “Eventual
dropouts tend to be…more entangled in school disciplinary proceedings, more frequently suspended, and in more trouble
with the law”(Catterall, 1986, p.9).
The United States Supreme Court has had several opportunities to rule on the constitutional right to an education.
Although the Court addressed education in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the real issue before the Court in that
case was racial discrimination in the schools. Education was the vehicle used to overturn the “separate but equal doctrine”
of Plessy v. Ferguson (1954).
The Court consolidated equal protection claims from Kansas, Delaware,
South Carolina, and Virginia. Separate educational facilities could never provide an “equal”
education, which was described as a right.It would also follow, inferentially, that
it was not implicitly intended as a fundamental right either.
In San Antonio (1973), the Court held that education was not a fundamental
constitutional right. The issue in San Antonio was whether the taxation scheme for financing public education in Texas afforded
all state residents an opportunity to an equal education.The plaintiffs contended
that since the basis of taxation was property value, the towns with high property values could spend more, per pupil, on the
education of their students.The students in the poorer towns were, therefore, deprived
of an equal education.The claim was that the Texas
taxation scheme violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.The plaintiffs stated their case was based on two claims. The first was that wealth was a suspect class and, secondly,
that education was a fundamental right.The plaintiffs wanted the standard of review
to be standard, which would occur only if a suspect class or a fundamental right were in question.
The Court went on to say that
wealth was not a suspect classin regard to education as a fundamental right, and
reiterated its long-standing opinion that education was the cornerstone of a free society.The Court referred back to its earlier opinions on the importance of education and said that many rights are of great
importance, but not all are fundamental rights.A fundamental right needs to be explicitly
described in the Constitution or inferred from its wording.
The Court did not find that
education was explicitly stated as a right in the Constitution, nor could they find it implicitly protected.The plaintiffs contended that an education is required in order to make an individual’s First Amendment rights
meaningful as well as his or her ability to meaningfully participate in elections.The
court said that there was no guarantee of effective free speech or informed electoral choice.It determined that if a basic education were provided, then the protected rights of free speech and the ability to
participate in elections would not be in jeopardy.This case was not about depriving
anyone of an education, but rather providing an unequal education.With no suspect
class identified and no fundamental right in jeopardy, the court applied a rational basis of review.The court found that the Texas taxation scheme had a rational basis and
was therefore not unconstitutional.
The court also said that education was best
left to state and local officials. Four
years later, in Connecticut (1977), it appears that the state’s highest
court understood the San Antonio Supreme Court’s message
Two years after San Antonio, in 1975, the United State Supreme Court decided
Goss v. Lopez. In deciding what due process rights the Columbus, Ohio
students had prior to being suspended, the Court held that the students had both a property interest in an education as well
as a liberty interest in their reputation.The property interest found by the Court
in Goss was consistent with the holding of the Court in San Antonio. The students
had a property interest from living in a state that took responsibility to provide a free public school education.
The next time the court had to explicitly address whether education was a fundamental right was in 1982. In Plyler
v. Doe (1982), the court was called upon to decide whether Texas was required
to provide a public school education to illegal immigrants.The issue was a state
law, which denied a public school education to children of illegal immigrants.The
plaintiffs, in a class-action suit, presented an equal protection claim.The court
first had to find that illegal immigrants and their children were individuals under the law.Having found that they were, the court next addressed whether the right in question was fundamental.Citing their opinion in San Antonio, the court reiterated that education
was not a fundamental right.“But neither is it merely
some governmental benefit indistinguishable from other forms of social welfare legislation.
Both the importance of education in maintaining our basic institutions and the lasting impact of its deprivation on
the life of the child, mark the distinction.”The court did, however,
state that in this case, the issue was deprivation of an education, rather than the quality of the education in San
Antonio.(San Antonio Independent School District
Although the court did
not find the children to be a suspect class, it found that the law in question
inappropriately penalized the children of illegal immigrants.The Court said that
the children had done nothing wrong; they had not illegally crossed the border.Using
the logic of prior opinions that children are under the care and protection of their parents, the court found the parents
to be guilty in illegally crossing the border.Their children, however, were innocent.The combination of deprivation of an education, plus the children of the children as innocent
victims, resulted in the court finding the law unconstitutional.In doing so, the
majority appear to apply a standard of heightened scrutiny, a standard mid-way between a rational basis and strict scrutiny.
Justice Powell’s similar opinion indicated that the majority applied a standard of heightened scrutiny.To demonstrate further support, Justice Blackmun’s opinion indicated that the majority could have applied a standard
of heightened scrutiny.For the first time, then, the court decided that education
was a “near” fundamental right. Based on a review of subsequent cases, however, Plyer’s implied standard
of review has not had any value as a precedent.
This review of research literature
on suspension and expulsion policies was accompanied by an examination of their potential impact on the rights and responsibilities
of students, parents, and educators, as well as the fairness of the procedures associated with such policies. This review
gives examples of wording the effectiveness of the wording of school-imposed sanctions as well as related procedures to reintegrate
offending students back into school.
This review examined suspension and expulsion policies within the context of a sanction/punitive approach,
and a behavioral expectation (school discipline) approach. Moving outward, such school discipline policies are also considered
within the context of school efforts to improve the school’s social climate through prevention and intervention strategies.
These efforts are designed to provide support for appropriate behaviors through rules and procedures affecting the behaviors
of students in the school, on the playgrounds, the buses, and in the classrooms.
It is very important to point out that this review does not encompass literature on the disciplining of special education
students in either self-contained or mainstreamed settings. The disciplinary practices used with this special population and
the issues involved in applying them are quite different from those involved in disciplining regular students, and thus, the
discussion of them is outside the scope of this report.