Study: School Disciplinary Procedures, Policies Add to LGBTQ Student Struggles

The report offered several explanations for LGBTQ students’ high discipline rate.

A new report found that some school disciplinary policies may be unfairly applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) students.

The report, conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), further found that nearly half of transgender students and students with another gender identity experienced discipline at school over the 2012-2013 school year.

“School administrators and teachers should examine their school policies and practices to ensure that LGBTQ students are not disproportionately affected, and moreover, to assess whether all students are given the opportunity to learn at school,” the report’s authors state.

Student safety was referenced as one possible explanation for the high rates of discipline among LGBTQ students.

“Schools still remain unsafe for many LGBTQ students and may also be unwelcoming to LGBTQ students because of discrimination and a lack of affirming resources,” the authors write.

The report used a national sample of LGBTQ middle and high school students from GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey to examine “potential pathways that push youth out of school and potentially into the criminal justice system.”

The researchers offered several explanations for why such a high percentage of LGBTQ students face disciplinary measures. Because LGBTQ youth are victimized more frequently, they are in greater contact with school authorities and are more likely to use defensive or preemptive violence. Student victimization also leads to absenteeism that could result in discipline.

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The researchers also identified several school policies that may accidentally target LGBTQ students, including dress codes, bathroom and locker room rules and punitive measures against students publicly displaying affection for their partners.

“States and school districts also should adopt non-discrimination policies and incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity/expression into existing antibullying/harassment and non-discrimination policies to foster school environments where all students are treated equitably,” the authors write.

The authors also questioned if the involvement of school resource officers (SROs) in disciplinary procedures is appropriate for LGBTQ students.

“Their presence in school may result in higher rates of student removal from school, and although further research is warranted, overall, they may be ill equipped to respond effectively and fairly to LGBTQ students. If SROs are present in a school, administrators should take steps to ensure that SROs are trained on how to address the needs of LGBTQ youth.”

Other findings include:

  • Just over 15 percent of LGBTQ students had been suspended
  • Just over one percent of LGTQ students had been expelled
  • Over a third of LGBTQ students had received detention
  • Homeless LGBTQ students were more likely to have experienced discipline

Overall, the authors stress that more research is needed to better analyze disparities in drop out, school discipline and justice involvement for LGBTQ students.

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