Disproportionate school discipline continues to contribute to the perception that school administrators and teachers are at the forefront of racism in education. There exist several schools of thought that apparently have little impact on this dilemma. Schools can only eliminate disproportionate school discipline by a true evaluation of the contributing root causes.

Scholars report different challenges that will continue to contribute to dipropionate school discipline. One challenge involves state and local policies that mandate suspensions because teachers are asked to decide if a student appears aggressive which results in Black students overwhelming participation in disproportionate school discipline. Janet Rosenbaum, an epidemiologist at SUNY Downstate Medical Center reports that “It seems like mandating a uniform punishment should be racially neutral, but in fact zero tolerance policy results in black students being treated more harshly. My research suggests that suspension is used in a racially discriminatory way. Being tall in height is a risk factor for suspension for black males, but not black females or non-black students.”

Additionally, Paul Hirschfield, professor of sociology at Rutgers University who conducted one of the most thorough literature reviews of school suspension outcomes reported that “…qualitative studies make a compelling case that teachers and principals are more likely to misperceive African-American students as threatening or defiant….” It appears that Black students are perceived as more threatening when compared to other students from different ethnicities and gender for Black males. While everyone continues to talk about how this atrocity impacts our society and the involved youth, no one is willing to address the root causes until now.

What root causes contribute to administrator and teacher perceptions that result in disproportionate school discipline?

Recently, a group of Black students protested regarding the Pasadena Unified School District’s dress code policy. The governing administrators rejected the attempts of Black male students wearing do-rags even though do-rags are a form of a scarf which many female students are allowed to wear.  According to the students, administrators perceived that the do-rags where associated with gang activity. Howard (2001) reported that Black students frequently find themselves in classrooms where their culture, racial, and linguistic identities are under constant attack that manifests as a multitude of disciplinary actions, suspensions, and expulsions.

Administrators and teachers use the students’ culture to determine their trust level for Black students. School staff members who are culturally different from their students have a greater challenge creating a trusting environment when cultural diversity and race factors are not put on the table by the school and students perceive these factors as important to their identity and school success. The root cause for disproportional discipline is that lack of trust by administrators and teachers. The evaluation of trust begins with the interpretation of the student’s nonverbal behaviors.

Nonverbal communication behaviors include three interacting systems, the visual, auditory, and invisible communication systems. Auditory communication involves loudness, pitch, rate, duration, quality, regularity, articulation, pronunciation, and pitch. Visual communication is the most important nonverbal communication system, and includes kinesthetic, proxemic, and artifactual subsystems. Kinesthetic communication includes facial expression, eye behaviors, gestures, and posture. Proxemic communication involves the use of space, distance, and territory for communication purposes. Artifactual communication involves facial and bodily appearances and the options that communicators use to alter their appearance. Individuals who nonverbally communicate in a manner consistent with a culture are perceived as more interpersonally attractive by members of that culture.

School staff who identify, analyze, and modify, if necessary, their nonverbal behavior improve their effectiveness. Education is a communication process that is not limited to transmitting knowledge but also involves interpersonal communication behaviors and nonverbal behaviors that are the major aspects of interpersonal relationships, which are critical in all learning situations. In order to eliminate disproportionate school disciple, educators will need to first evaluate how they use nonverbal behaviors to determine the trustworthiness of their students which is found in the following table.

Behavior Staff Student
   Facial Expression(s)    
   Communication Territory    
   Facial and bodily Appearances    

Nonverbal Behavior Observation Checklist For Eliminating Disproportionate School Discipline

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School Suspension and Expulsion Doesn’t Discipline Kids. It Hurts Them.

All the best,

Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034

(856) 566-3267


Author of:

  • Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships
  • Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
  • The Raccelerate Formula App
  • Treasures of Hidden Racism in Education
  • The Ultimate Guide to Classroom Racism Management
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“Dr. Campbell did his part and now all we have to do is run with it.”
 ~ Tom Coleman ~
Woodstown-Pilesgrove Public Schools Superintendent of Schools

“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.

~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor

“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”

~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President 2

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