Building a sense of community : a descriptive study exploring the perceptions of school administrators regarding economically disadvantaged students placed in disciplinary alternative education programs.


Exclusionary discipline like a Discipline Alternative Education Program (DAEP) has not decreased student discipline referrals. Instead, economically disadvantaged students are often disproportionally assigned exclusionary discipline consequences, and often the impact of these consequences are overlooked (Anderson & Ritter, 2017; Moore et al., 2020; Skiba, 2014). The need to respond to student discipline referrals with consequences that do not exclude students is becoming a more evident issue.
This descriptive study explored administrators’ perceptions regarding the use of exclusionary discipline, the available discipline strategies, and known outcomes for economically disadvantaged students. The literature highlighted in this study included an overview and history of policies leading to the use of DAEPs, the argument that there is a lack of evidence that exclusionary discipline curtails discipline incidents, the argument that there is a lack of awareness regarding its influence on economically disadvantaged students, and finally, the implications addressing the adverse effects on students. The researcher held semi-structured interviews with five participants from school districts in the El Paso area. The researcher applied McMillan and Chavis’ sense of community theory (1986) to connect the findings to the four elements shared in their theory: “membership, influence, reinforcement: integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection” (p. 9). The findings highlight that the lack of discipline strategies impedes schools from supporting economically disadvantaged students recommended for an exclusionary discipline consequence. Participants shared that students are often “thrown away” into a DAEP classroom without the proper skills to rebuild relationships and rejoin their school community. The administrators also shared that with the current strategies, the number of discipline incidents was not decreasing. The findings also reveal that school administrators do not feel that exclusionary discipline is helping students return to their traditional classrooms and not return to DAEP. School administrators shared equity issues they have seen that impacted student outcomes. The information discovered encourages school districts to implement more restorative and rehabilitative practices for discretionary discipline reasons.