School suspensions harms kids’ grades and their health, large study shows

A new study conducted by UC San Francisco shines light on how being suspended from school or sent to the office negatively impacts students’ grades and health.

The study examined school records of 16,849 students in a large Californian urban school district from 2014 to 2017. The ages ranged from sixth graders to tenth graders and showed some alarming numbers, with the biggest impacts on kids who are Black, Latinx, or American Indian/Alaskan Native.

During the 2014-2015 school year, Black students who had an “exclusionary school discipline” (ESD) event, which means they were removed from the classroom or suspended, saw their GPA drop by an average of 1.44 points by the end of the study. Similarly, Latinx students saw a drop of 1.39 points and American Indian/Alaskan Natives saw a drop of 1.33 points if they experienced an ESD event in the same timeframe.

To put it in perspective, the average GPA decline across all students who were removed from class or suspended during the 2014-2015 school year was 0.88 points after researchers controlled for race, ethnicity, maternal education, gender, age or whether the student had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for disabilities.

As if those numbers aren’t problematic enough, the study also showed that Black students were 10 times more likely to experience an ESD event than white students, and Latinx students were three times more likely.

“ESDs hurt all those who experience them, but they drastically hurt those from minoritized groups, and particularly Black and Latinx communities,” said Meghan D. Morris, PhD, UCSF associate professor in epidemiology and biostatistics and senior author of the study. “These events are another way of reinforcing the systems of racism that already occur within the classroom and the school environment and the community environment more broadly.”

In addition to the impact on grades, ESD events are also harmful to children’s health. “Because ESDs reflect embedded racism, they should be considered adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that put students at greater risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes and asthma, as well as mental illness,” said Camila Cribb Fabersunne, MD, first author and UCSF assistant professor of pediatrics.

“These children are experiencing discrimination in how school discipline is applied,” Dr. Cribb Fabersunne added. “When students are subject to trauma in a place that should be a sanctuary—a place where they think they will be safe from racism and the adults will support them—it impacts them in a profound way.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recently formed a new policy on supporting preschoolers who face expulsion, given that those who are expelled in early childhood are at a significantly higher risk of long-term impacts, being 10 times more likely to drop out of high school or face prison later in life. That’s why AAP is urging early learning professionals and pediatricians to have protocols, screening tools and supports in place to help prevent children from being expelled from preschools, and recommends working with families and teachers to get kids the support they need.

It’s no secret that racism still exists in America, and as a parent it’s never too early to teach your kids to be anti-racist. By encouraging your young kiddos to take action against racism, you can help be part of the change this country so desperately needs.