There is a lack of research that seeks to understand the perspectives and experiences of the students who have been involved in the SPP. This paper sought to fill this gap by examining the experiences of African American students with disabilities who have been involved in the juvenile justice system (JJS). Specifically this paper examined student’s perspective and understanding of the discipline and consequences they received in the school setting. In the process of describing the discipline and consequences they received, students described elements of their experiences that were instrumental on their journey to their overall academic success.
Methods: In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 African American students (between the ages of 18 and 21) with disabilities who were enrolled in alternative schools. The sample was predominantly male (80% male and 20% female). Five of the students had ADD/ADHD and two of the students indicated that they struggled with staying focus and being distracted. Participants all had previous experience with the juvenile justice system, with 80% of the students being arrested between 0-5 times, and 20% of the students being arrested over fifteen times. Participants were recruited through flyers distributed by school counselors and social workers. Interviews focused on the students educational experiences and their experiences in the JJS. Interviews were transcribed and coded using Atlas ti. Codes were developed on the grounds of Critical Disability theory (CDT), to identify the essence of the students experiences.
Findings: Data analysis revealed that the students perceptions of their experiences evolved as they aged, transitioned, and gained access to teachers who showed interest in their care and well-being. Despite their original negative thoughts about the consequences and disabilities they received, as adults they believed, every discipline they got, they deserved. Many of the participants did not have a full understanding of how their disabilities influenced their behaviors. The students took pride in taking responsibility for their actions, however CDT would describe this idea of responsibility as a sense of false consciousness and self-blame, which is common among individuals with disabilities. Despite the problematic ideology of self-blame and false consciousness, their experiences resulted in an unexpected pursuit of progress.
Conclusion and Implications: The findings highlight the importance of how school social workers can assist students with having an in-depth understanding of how their disabilities influence their behaviors, to prevent normalizing harsh discipline strategies used by educators and law enforcement officers. The findings also highlight the importance for school social workers to promote and advocate for positive teacher and staff relationships among African American students with disabilities.