An ecological-systems inquiry into racial disproportionalities in out-of-school suspensions from youth, caregiver and educator perspectives

Wendy Haight, Priscilla A. Gibson, Misa Kayama, Jane M. Marshall, Robert Wilson

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26 Scopus citations


This research examines the perspectives of youths, their caregivers and educators on specific incidences of recent out-of-school suspensions. Racial disproportionality in out-of-school suspensions is a persistent, multi-level social justice and child well-being issue. We examined suspensions sensitized primarily by an ecological-systems perspective and secondarily by critical race and social language theories. We employed a mixed methods design with an emphasis on the qualitative component. Twenty-eight youths with recent out-of-school suspensions, 25 of their caregivers and 16 educators participated in individual, semi-structured, audiotaped interviews. Participants from all groups expressed a commitment to youths' education, viewed suspensions as a racial issue, believed youth and caregiver behaviors contributed to suspensions, observed that suspensions are harmful to youth achievement and educator-youth relationships, and emphasized the need for youths to have caring relationships with educators and to change problematic behaviors. Youths underscored the role of peer behaviors in their suspensions and the impact of suspensions on their peer relationships. Caregivers emphasized the negative impact of suspensions on family-school relationships, and the need for interventions that provide moral, spiritual and general guidance to youth. Family members (caregivers and youths) underscored the need for intervention to improve educators' sensitivity to youths. Educators emphasized the need to maintain a positive learning environment for all students, and for preventive and flexible approaches to problematic youth behaviors. They also described a variety of macro system constraints to implementing better alternatives to suspensions. These included inadequate school resources, legal liability issues and a culturally diverse student population and relatively homogeneous staff. Implications for reducing suspensions of Black youths are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-138
Number of pages11
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs 1000-10184-20078 , the Agricultural Experiment Station 218877MIN-55-018 , the Gamble-Skogmo endowment ( University of Minnesota ) and the Spencer Foundation 201300047 . The authors also would like to thank Mallerie Shirley, Abigail Henderson, Timothy Warren, Parmananda Khatiwoda, and Kelly Evans for their help with data collection and analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Mixed methods research
  • Out-of-school suspensions
  • Racial disproportionalities


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