Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Cashel, Mary Louise


Bullying is a pervasive concern across the nation. Positive school climate is related to a reduction in bullying behaviors; thus, researchers aim to determine ways to enhance school climate in an effort to address bullying in schools. Many factors contribute to a positive school climate, including an authoritative leadership approach that provides consistent and fair discipline and positive support of students. In contrast, inconsistent and unfair discipline negatively impacts school climate and may exacerbate bullying among students. In some schools, discipline strategies are not applied equally to all students, and findings have consistently demonstrated that students from underrepresented groups, especially Black students, have been disproportionately affected. Moreover, the utilization of zero tolerance policies often disparately impacts minority students, with more frequent consequences such as suspension and expulsion for minor infractions. This study assessed the impact of unfair discipline on perceptions of school climate, safety, and bullying in predominantly rural schools, with specific examination of the experiences of Black students. The results of the study indicated that significant discrepancies continue to exist with Black students receiving a significantly greater proportion of suspensions than their proportion of enrollment in the schools. Surprisingly, disciplinary discrepancy did not significantly predict student perceptions of school climate, school safety, or bullying behaviors. Alternately, interesting findings emerged with respect to other student-level variables. Students who selected Black as their race had significantly less positive perceptions of school climate and the addition of student perceptions of unfair rules to the model significantly predicted perceptions of school climate. School-related variance did not significantly contribute to these findings. Next, students who perceived their school climate as more positive were significantly more likelihood to perceive their school to be safe. Furthermore, consistent with previous research, student likelihood of being bullied in the last 4 weeks increased significantly as grade decreased, meaning bulling experiences are more frequent in middle school and early high school as opposed to late high school years. Finally, negative perceptions of school climate significantly predicted the likelihood of student experiences of bullying. Overall, the findings suggest a need for disciplinary reform where the focus is on reducing bias and increasing positive supports for students.




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