Over the past decade, there has been increasing national, state, and local attention focused on the negative impacts of school expulsion and suspension. As a result of the well-documented and long-standing research showing the harm to students of exclusionary school discipline practices, states and school districts have begun reforming their policies and practices to limit the use of suspensions and expulsions. Many of these new reforms, however, have not included changes to provisions in state law and district policies allowing for students to be transferred from their neighborhood schools to alternative schools for disciplinary reasons. In this article, we argue that state and school district policies should expressly limit the use of alternative school transfers as part of overall strategies to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline practices. Like suspension and expulsion, disciplinary placements in alternative schools can have devastating consequences for students. Alternative schools are often further from the student's home and are more likely to have high concentrations of peers with high risk factors and negative behaviors. Students who are removed from their neighborhood school to an alternative school for disciplinary reasons are separated from their friends and teachers and need to begin completely new classes in an entirely different school setting, often in the middle of the school year. Student mobility, including mobility as a result of alternative school placements, is associated with negative results that include reduced academic achievement, reduced likelihood of graduation on time, fewer years of schooling, increased risk of depression, and increased likelihood of arrest as an adult. The paper will review social science research and data surrounding disciplinary transfers. It will also explore the legal protections governing alternative school placements for disciplinary purposes. As a case study, the paper will highlight lessons learned from implementation of a recent Illinois school discipline reform law, a large-scale overhaul to existing disciplinary provisions and one of the first of its kind across the country. Lastly, the paper will highlight recommendations to limit the use of alternative school transfers for disciplinary reasons.
Miranda Johnson & James Naughton, Just Another School: The Need to Strengthen Legal Protections for Students Facing Disciplinary Transfers, 33 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 69 (2019).