Obey or Abey: An Empirical Examination of Abeyance Agreements in Public School Discipline

Rachael K. Cox | March 12, 2023

“Exclusionary discipline” is widely understood to mean the typical responses to student misbehavior in public schools: suspension and expulsion. But sometimes their lesser-known counterpart, the abeyance agreement, swoops in before the suspension or expulsion is effectuated and gives the student a “second chance” to avoid such exclusionary discipline—provided the student complies with the terms of the agreement. It sounds simple, but the reality is far more complicated. Without a clearly defined, regulated, and tracked practice, abeyance agreements are an off-record discipline device used at the sole discretion of public school district administrators. Joining a landscape of urgent concerns over the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline against Black students, male students, and students with disabilities, the use of abeyance agreements by public schools as an alternative to traditional exclusionary discipline raises concerns as to whether their use may similarly—and detrimentally—reflect these trends.

But we simply don’t know. Presently, little to no quantitative research or qualitative discussion exists on the use of abeyance agreements in public school discipline. This Note is an exploration of that unknown: it introduces abeyance practices and the legal and policy concerns they raise, and identifies potential next steps in addressing their use. Most notably, this Note presents original datasets that illustrate the current landscape of abeyance practices in two large U.S. school districts and, in doing so, provides a baseline for comprehensive empirical research on the issue.