Exclusion, Punishment, Racism and Our Schools: A Critical Race Theory Perspective on School Discipline


Punitive school discipline procedures have increasingly taken hold in America’s schools. While they are detrimental to the wellbeing and to the academic success of all students, they have proven to disproportionately punish minority students, especially African American youth. Such policies feed into wider social issues that, once more, disproportionately affect minority communities: the school-to-prison pipeline, high school dropout rates, the push-out phenomenon, and the criminalization of schools.

Before such pervasive racial inequality can be addressed effectively, the social and the psychological mechanisms that create racial inequality in the first place must be examined. This Comment offers insights from the field of Critical Race Theory on the root causes for racial inequality in American society more broadly, and in the context of school discipline more specifically. It argues that racial stigmatization, stereotyping, and implicit biases that are based on a long history of racial prejudice in the United States continue to infuse seemingly objective standards of what is considered appropriate behavior, as well as the practices—such as punitive school discipline—that are used to enforce such standards.

Because a comprehensive remedy to these systemic issues cannot be expected to come from efforts in the courts, advocates will have to rely on alternative strategies to soften and to reverse the negative impact that punitive school discipline imposes on students, especially minority students. This Comment proposes disciplinary practices based on the concept of Restorative Justice as a promising alternative to current disciplinary policies. It argues that Restorative Justice–based disciplinary policies are consistent with core principles of Critical Race Theory and are more conducive to creating a nurturing, safe, and inclusive school environment that not only keeps children in school but also helps to undermine the sources of racial conflict and of racial inequality that have plagued this nation for too long. 

About the Author

David Simson is an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. He is a 2013 graduate of UCLA School of Law, where he specialized in Critical Race Studies and served as a Senior Editor on the UCLA Law Review.

By uclalaw