Principal discretion and the use of out-of-school suspension in public high schools
The purpose of this mixed methods study was to analyze school principal’s perception and use of out-of-school suspension as a consequence to address student misbehavior. This study was conducted on current acting high school principals in the southeast region of a Midwestern state. Participants completed a survey that consisted of items related to principal decision making as well as the use of zero-tolerance policies to determine discipline outcomes. Survey items were designed to determine how out-of-school suspensions are used in relation to the use of principal discretion and zero-tolerance policies. Principals in this study were given the opportunity to participate in follow-up interviews where principals were asked more specific questions about their use of out-of-school suspension as a form of student discipline. Study results found that principals felt the use of out-of-school suspension were an effective consequence to address student misbehavior. Principals felt they had the autonomy to use their discretion to determine the most appropriate consequence to address student misbehavior in their respective schools. Opinions were mixed on the use of zero-tolerance policies. A majority of surveyed participants felt that zero-tolerance policies were an effective method used to address student misbehavior. However, principals who were interviewed preferred to use their discretion over zero-tolerance policies when determining the most appropriate consequence because principals wanted to be able to consider all of the circumstances of a discipline situation. Principals concluded that out-of-school suspensions are necessary in-order to protect the learning environment for all students; however, there are inconsistencies in the use of such suspensions. These inconsistencies are present through the use of principal discretion and decision making, the use of zero-tolerance policies, the length of the suspension, and the unnecessary use of suspensions for minor discipline infractions.