Methods: A large urban district (N=90,546 students, n=180 schools) implemented RIs in response to rule-breaking behavior and recorded students’ participation was in administrative discipline records (n=9,921). Multilevel modeling techniques were used to estimate the relationships between student background (gender, English language learner status, race, poverty, and special education eligibility), participation in RIs during the first semester, and discipline outcomes in the second semester. Student-level covariates included the type and number of discipline incidents, grade-level, and designation as seriously emotionally disabled. School-level covariates were racial composition, proportion of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, along with grade configuration and school size.
Results: Results indicate that youth from groups that tend to be overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions had similar, if not greater rates of participation in RIs than their more advantaged peers. For example, Latino (OR=1.40, p<.05) and Black (OR=1.36, p<.05) students had greater odds of participating in a RI relative to White students. First semester participants in RIs also had significantly lower odds of another discipline incident (OR=.21, p<.001) or suspension (OR=.07, p<.001) in the second semester. Finally, tests of moderation indicate that the protective effect of RIs was equivalent across disadvantaged student groups.
Conclusion: Findings suggest the presence of a time-ordered protective effect of RIs on exclusionary discipline outcomes that was consistent for students of different backgrounds. In light of evidence from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems that low-income youth of color tend to have less access to preventive interventions than their more privileged counterparts, it is a promising finding that there was equitable participation in this less punitive, problem-solving approach to addressing rule-breaking behavior. Unfortunately, comparable participation in RIs by students historically overrepresented in office referrals and suspensions did not correspond with reductions in disparities district-wide. It may be necessary to implement additional forms of preventive interventions to address systemic discipline gaps.