School Discipline Policies

At a Glance:

Location: California

Date: 2012

Vital Condition: Basic Needs for Health and Safety, Belonging and Civic Muscle, Lifelong Learning

Determinants of Health: substance use, neighborhood safety, education, belonging and civic muscle, justice system, education

Affected Population: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, Children and Youth

Research Methods: Quantitative research, Qualitative research

Community Types: urban, suburban, rural

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Human Impact Partners conducted an HIA on the health implications of three different approaches to disciplining students in California schools: zero tolerance, positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), and restorative justice. It is hypothesized that zero tolerance policies (in which students are suspended or expelled for offenses) may not make schools safer and may actually contribute to early drop out by some segments of the youth population. Some of the pathways and health issues explored include the impacts of high school completion on health, safety in schools with various discipline policies and student mental health. The HIA found that zero tolerance, or exclusionary school discipline, policies would likely have a negative effect on mental health conditions, community violence and crime, and drug use. PBIS and restorative justice policies would likely have a positive impact on these same health determinants. The HIA recommended that PBIS or restorative justice policies be used as alternatives to zero tolerance policies, and that a rigorous evaluation of pilot schools for these alternative programs be conducted.


PBIS is continuing to be implemented in South Los Angeles. Pilot PBIS and RJ programs are being implemented in Oakland and Salinas.

This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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