Abstract: Reducing Racial/Ethnic Disparities in School Discipline? the Truancy Intervention Program (Society for Prevention Research 24th Annual Meeting)

265 Reducing Racial/Ethnic Disparities in School Discipline? the Truancy Intervention Program

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Pacific D/L (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Clea McNeely, DrPH, Associate Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Lynette M. Renner, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Saint Paul, MN
Introduction: Recent meta-analyses and the IES What Works Clearinghouse recommend several strategies for addressing truancy. None of these strategies, however, explicitly tackles institutional racism or racial/ethnic disparities in the application of U.S. school discipline policies. Two potential ways to reduce inequities in discipline policies are to 1) use (relatively) objective criteria (e.g., attendance) for implementing discipline and 2) involve students and parents in the solution. We examined whether a truancy intervention program based on these two principles achieved equitable implementation for all racial/ethnic groups and for both sexes.

Method: The Truancy Intervention Program (TIP), begun in 1995, is operated by the county attorney’s office in a Midwest state. TIP involves a three-step process of progressively intensive interventions for students in grades 7-12. Any school in the county can refer a youth with five unexcused absences to TIP. Once referred, all students and their parents/guardians participate in Step 1, a mandatory meeting with a county attorney who explains the state’s compulsory attendance law and the TIP process. If another five unexcused absences are accumulated, the student moves to Step 2, a School Attendance Review Team (SART) hearing where school staff, a county attorney, parents/guardians, and the student create a plan for successful school attendance. If attendance does not improve after Step 2, the process moves to the third and final step: a truancy petition to Juvenile Court. The Family Truancy Prevention Program (FTIP), begun in 1999, follows a similar three-step process for students in grade K-6.  This study includes data for 45,365 youth ages 5-18 who were referred to TIP/FTIP between 1996-2015. Of these, 53% are male, 24% identify as White, 39% as African American, 13% as Latino/Latina, 18% as Asian, and 3% as American Indian. 

Results: 15% of students progressed to Step 2 (SART hearing) and 13% to Step 3 (court). Among students who entered TIP/FTIP at age 12 or older, both sexes and all racial/ethnic groups advanced to Steps 2 and 3 at similar rates. Among children 11 and younger, American Indians were more likely to advance to Step 2 (26%) and Step 3 (16%) compared to their same-aged peers (18%; p<.000 and 9%; p<.000, respectively).

Conclusions: With the critical exception of young American-Indian students, TIP and FTIP may be promising approaches to reducing the disproportionate involvement of students of color in the juvenile justice and family court systems (the so-called school-to-prison pipeline). That said, Black students are over-represented among referrals to TIP and FTIP, suggesting that referrals to the programs by the schools may be inequitable. This possibility will be explored prior to SPR.