Examination of relationship between school policy, language variables, and disproportionality in discipline in Texas school districts
Public school districts distribute school policy materials as an efficient method of informing parents and students about their rights and responsibilities. Public schools routinely publish that information to inform parents/guardians and students of expectations within the educational realm. That notification, or School Policy/Code of Conduct/Student Handbook, is used to provide a basis of understanding of the guidelines and rules within the school environment. These materials are often mailed to homes, sent home with students, or available publicly on district websites. That school policy is intended to be a means of reliable communication so that parents and students are aware of and can follow the guidelines and rules. If, however, the document contains difficult text in terms of sentence complexity, document length, or word complexity, it may not be fully understood. This study examined how specific linguistic/language factors impacted accessibility of student policies and how those contributed to disproportionality in discipline for specific groups of students. Findings demonstrated that specific language variables in school policies were able to predict In-School Suspension and Out-of-School Suspension outcomes across the student groups included in this study. However, those variables were greater predictors of ISS and OSS outcomes for Black students compared to White students. These findings lead to implications for administrators, policymakers, students, and parents particularly because it suggests that language serves as a proxy to racial disproportionality in student discipline. The data indicate that parents of children in public school districts across Texas would benefit from re-designed documents that consider the importance of accessible language.