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Suspension from school as a disciplinary tactic has long-term negative effects, Mason research finds

February 5, 2019

New research from George Mason University found that school suspension is more likely to predict youth drug use than police arrests. ​

Beidi Dong, assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University, led the study, titled “Sent home versus arrested: The relative influence of school and police intervention on drug use.”

The study used data from the Rochester Youth Developmental Study (RYDS), a three-generation study that began in 1988, to examine the immediate influence of school discipline on drug use during adolescence and the effect of these disciplinary actions on subsequent drug use in young adulthood.

Dong and the study’s co-author, Marvin D. Krohn from the department of sociology and criminology and law at the University of Florida, studied people ages 14 to 31 and looked at information on students’ drug use, self-esteem and parental supervision, as well as the frequency of school discipline and whether the students had been arrested and how many times. 

Negative effects of school suspension were most pronounced among minority youth, but gender also played a role in the results. 

“The effects on gender really depend on the timing of the issue. During adolescence, between the ages of 15 to 18, when we look at the concurrent impact, we found that female students tend to use drugs after they get suspended, but for the long-term impact, it's the males,” said Dong. He added that the impact was more severe for male students who had been suspended once they reached their 30s.

Dong found that school suspension can result in students internalizing the “delinquent” label and can lead suspended students to use their unstructured and unsupervised time out of school to engage in negative behavior.

“School suspension should only be used as a last solution to disruptive or even violent behavior in school,” said Dong, who added that school discipline without discretion can also lead to other long-term negative effects related to the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Beidi Dong can be reached at bdong@gmu.edu or 703-993-3477. 

For more information, contact Mary Lee Clark at mclark35@gmu.edu or 703-993-5118.

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 37,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.