School Resource Officers, Exclusionary Discipline, and the Role of Context
Fisher, Benjamin William
In recent years, students have been excluded from school at consistently high rates, even as school crime rates have declined. Moreover, students of color are excluded at disproportionately high rates compared to their White peers. Although researchers have found these patterns across a variety of contexts, there has been little research that examines school-level mechanisms that may contribute to the high overall rates of exclusionary discipline and the attendant racial disparities. This dissertation focuses on two possible mechanisms that have been theoretically linked to increased rates of exclusionary discipline: school resource officers (SROs) and zero-tolerance approaches to discipline. Study 1 used 14 years of data from Tennessee high schools to model trends in suspension rates before and after the implementation of SROs using a latent growth curve modeling approach. The findings indicated that SRO implementation was associated with lower overall suspension rates and lower suspension rates for Black students, and no changes for White students’ suspension rates or racial disparities in suspension rates. Study 2 examined the relation between the combination of SROs and a high zero-tolerance approach and schools’ rates of exclusionary discipline using a nationally representative sample of public high schools. A series of three-way interaction models with an ordinary least squares regression framework indicated that schools that had SROs in combination with a high zero-tolerance approach to discipline had higher overall rates of exclusionary discipline in schools characterized by higher proportions of racial minority students and other indicators of disadvantage. Together, these studies suggest that SROs and zero-tolerance approaches to discipline may not be universally appropriate mechanisms for reducing rates of exclusionary discipline. Instead, school context is an important consideration when forming strategies to reduce student exclusions.