Abstract Reducing disproportionality in school discipline is a grand challenge for school social work. Although the causes of disproportionality in exclusionary school discipline are interrelated and complex, one solution is to introduce alternatives to suspensions and expulsions that discipline students while keeping them engaged in school. The teen court model represents one such alternative. The purpose of this article is to present a conceptual framework for understanding the role of the teen court model in providing an alternative to traditional discipline measures. Specifically, the ROARS framework provides a guide for distinguishing among the different types of teen court programs (that is, diversion teen court programs, disciplinary teen court programs, and hybrid teen court programs) and thereby illuminates the utility of the teen court model as a school discipline alternative. The roles of school social workers in teen court–school partnerships are highlighted. Of the 49 million U.S. students enrolled in school in the 2011–2012 school year, 3.5 million received an out-of-school suspension (OSS), 1.55 million received multiple OSSs, and 130,000 were expelled (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights [OCR], 2014). Students of color were disproportionately represented in each of these categories (OCR, 2014). The impact of disproportionality in exclusionary school discipline is widespread. As conceptualized in the school-to-prison pipeline (STPP) construct, exclusionary school discipline practices are thought to influence negative life outcomes, including an increased risk for juvenile justice system involvement (Skiba, Arredondo, & Williams, 2014). Although much of the extant research on the STPP is descriptive and falls short of establishing pathways (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008), a few recent studies have demonstrated an empirical association between exclusionary discipline and involvement in the juvenile justice system (see Skiba et al., 2014). Given its prevalence and impact, reducing disproportionality in school discipline is a grand challenge for school social work. One method to address this grand challenge is to identify alternative discipline strategies that address misbehavior while keeping students engaged in school. The teen court model represents a potential alternative to traditional disciplinary methods and, through partnerships with local schools, has the potential to address disproportionality in exclusionary school discipline practices. The purpose of this article is to present a conceptual framework for understanding the role of teen courts as an alternative to exclusionary discipline strategies to address disproportionality in suspensions and expulsions. Exclusionary Discipline Practices and the Role of School Social Workers OSS (that is, an instance in which a student is temporarily removed from school for disciplinary purposes for at least half a day but less than the remainder of the school year) and expulsion (that is, an instance in which a student is removed from school for disciplinary purposes for at least the remainder of the school year) are the most common types of exclusionary discipline practices (OCR, 2016). National data from 2013 to 2014 suggest that, compared with their white counterparts, African American students were 3.8 times more likely to receive one or more OSSs (OCR, 2016). In addition, male students who identified as American Indian/Alaskan Native, Latino, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or multiracial represented 15 percent of K–12 students, but received a disproportionate number of OSSs (19 percent). Moreover, these trends in exclusionary discipline mirror outcomes within the juvenile justice system; youths of color face significantly higher likelihoods of negative outcomes at each juncture in the juvenile justice system, from being charged, to being prosecuted, to being incarcerated (Smith, 2009). Involvement with the juvenile justice system during adolescence can result in disadvantages throughout the life course, including labeling, stigma, decreased opportunities, and decreased bonding with adults (Lopes et al., 2012; Sampson & Laub, 1997). The alarming school discipline trends coupled with the consequences for African American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian youths have brought disproportionality in school discipline to the attention of school social workers. School social workers, who are often charged with tackling a broad array of issues that affect student success, are uniquely positioned to address this issue. In fact, social work researchers and practitioners have described several practice strategies for addressing school discipline issues (see, for example, Dietsche, 2014; Dupper, Theriot, & Craun, 2009). One strategy is to address cultural bias within schools by implementing programs designed to address bias among educators (Dupper et al., 2009). For example, an intervention for teachers focused on positive attitudes and beliefs about Latino/Latina immigrant students (Yo Veo) was associated with improved attitudes toward undocumented immigrants and cultural competency (Chapman & Hall, 2016). Additional action steps for school social workers to address exclusionary discipline practices include assessing discipline policy implementation and effectiveness, raising awareness about the STPP construct, and advocating for effective discipline measures that maintain student engagement in school (Dietsche, 2014). Laub (2014) echoed this point by asserting that one method to address exclusionary discipline practices is to identify practices that address misbehavior while keeping students engaged. In other words, to prevent exclusionary discipline practices, schools need alternative consequences to suspensions and expulsions that discipline misbehavior while maintaining engagement in school. The Teen Court Model The teen court model represents a potential alternative to suspensions and expulsions. In its traditional form, teen court is a juvenile justice diversion program for nonchronic juvenile offenders. Although specific eligibility criteria vary among programs, referrals typically come from law enforcement, the juvenile justice system, or both. Rather than being processed through the traditional juvenile justice system, which has been associated with negative outcomes including increased delinquency (Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino, & Guckenburg, 2010), teen court programs provide youths with the opportunity to be judged by a jury of their peers. In fact, in most teen court models, youths are responsible for the roles of attorneys, bailiff, and court clerk. The role of the judge varies depending on whether the teen court program uses an adult judge or peer judge model. In either case, the peer juries are responsible for deciding on sanctions (consequences), which often include jury duties (serving on the jury of another case), community service, letters of apology, and prosocial workshops. If the youth does not successfully complete the peer-derived sanctions, then he or she can be referred back to the law enforcement agency or juvenile court that made the referral to the teen court program (Butts, Buck, & Coggeshall, 2002). The teen court model incorporates restorative justice principles. Restorative justice emphasizes that unlawful behavior is a violation of people and relationships (Zehr, 1990). Therefore, restorative justice practices often involve interactions between the victim and the perpetrator, reparation of harm, and reintegration into the community (Suvall, 2009). Teen court incorporates aspects of restorative justice by providing participants an opportunity to repair harm through writing a letter of apology or paying restitution and to mend community relationships through community service or serving as a juror on another teen court case. Similar to extant research on restorative justice programs generally (Latimer, Dowden, & Muise, 2005), although additional controlled studies are needed, existing empirical evidence on the teen court model is promising. Many teen court evaluations focus on the impact of the teen court model on recidivism (for example, Bright, Young, Bessaha, & Falls, 2015; Dick, Geertsen, & Jones, 2003; Forgays, 2008; Gase, Kuo, Lai, Stoll, & Ponce, 2016); however, issues with inconsistent recidivism measurement make it difficult to draw overall conclusions on the models’ impact on reoffending (see Cotter & Evans, 2017). Butts and colleagues (2002) conducted a study in which teen court programs in four states (Alaska, Missouri, Arizona, and Maryland) were evaluated. Six-month recidivism rates were calculated for the youths participating in the teen court programs and comparison groups of youths who were processed through the juvenile justice system. Results were somewhat mixed, with statistically significant lower rates of reoffense for teen court participants in two states (that is, 6 percent versus 23 percent in Alaska and 9 percent versus 28 percent in Missouri). In Arizona, 9 percent of teen court participants recidivated compared with 15 percent in the comparison group, although this result was not statistically significant. In Maryland, 8 percent of teen court participants recidivated compared with 4 percent in the comparison group; this result was not statistically significant, either. This study exemplifies the inconsistency in impact on recidivism across existing teen court evaluation studies. Additional research and evaluation using consistent definition and measurement of recidivism is needed to understand the impact of the teen court model on reoffense. It is also possible that inconsistencies in program components across teen court programs may cause inconsistent results. For instance, programs may differ significantly in the number and quality of sanctions that peer juries can assign. Although the flexibility with which teen court programs can be adopted to fit community (and school) context is a strength of the model, regular program evaluation is essential to ensure that the specific program is working in the context where it is being implemented. Although previous research indicated mixed results with regard to recidivism rates, other studies have suggested that the teen court model may influence factors beyond recidivism, including positive behavior (Doroski & Burke, 2007), problem solving, goal setting, and life skills (Flowers, 2010). Furthermore, one evaluation study explored a variety of outcomes related to peer relationships, parent relationships, and psychological functioning for teen court youths using a pre–post design with a sample of middle and high school students as a comparison group (Evans, Smokowski, Barbee, Bower, & Barefoot, 2016). Results of this study indicated a significant decrease in delinquent friends, peer pressure, internalizing symptoms, aggression, and violent behavior for teen court participants relative to the comparison group. Although additional research using a comparable high-risk comparison group is necessary, these preliminary findings on the broad impact of the teen court model are promising. The ROARS Framework: Identifying Differences across Types of Teen Court Programs Despite the potentially broad impact of the teen court model, results of a systematic literature review of teen court evaluations indicated that a minority of teen court programs involve schools (Cotter & Evans, 2017). Specifically, of the 34 teen court program evaluation studies reviewed, seven programs operated in the community and accepted referrals from schools. In addition, one of the 34 studies was a school-based teen court, meaning that the program operated within the school solely to address school discipline issues. The different models reflected in the systematic review represent two unique ways in which teen court programs and schools can collaborate to provide alternatives to school suspensions and expulsions for school-based infractions. The fact that the majority of teen court programs do not involve schools is due in part to issues with the terminology and definition associated with the teen court model (Cotter & Evans, 2017). That is, the term “teen court” is used to describe programs that solely receive referrals from the justice system (for example, Koch & Wood, 2009), programs that receive referrals from the justice system as well as school personnel (for example, Evans et al., 2016), and programs that operate within schools (for example, Pima County Teen Court, 2016). Furthermore, because teen court programs were originally developed to address the need for an alternative for youths involved with the justice system, they are typically described as “juvenile justice diversion programs” (Global Youth Justice, 2017). These terminology and definitional issues impede the widespread adoption of the teen court model as an alternative to school suspension and expulsion. To address this issue, a conceptual framework is presented to describe the different types of teen court programs. Previous work has suggested using distinguishing terminology based on the program’s referral sources, which directly affects the type of youths being served by the program (Cotter & Evans, 2017). First, diversion teen court refers to the traditional model in which programs receive referrals from law enforcement or the juvenile justice system and therefore exclusively serve youths who would otherwise be processed through the juvenile justice system. Second, disciplinary teen court refers to programs that receive referrals from school personnel and therefore serve youths who would (for the most part) otherwise receive consequences from the school. However, it is acknowledged that in some cases, more severe school-based offenses that would otherwise be referred to law enforcement can theoretically be handled by a disciplinary teen court program. Third, hybrid teen court refers to programs that accept referrals from both justice systems and school personnel. The current work builds on these definitions by providing a guiding framework that further characterizes teen court programs and thereby clarifies the role that teen court models can play in providing alternatives to traditional school disciplinary methods. The framework was informed by distinguishing characteristics of teen court programs included in a systematic review of teen court evaluation studies (Cotter & Evans, 2017). The ROARS framework includes five key domains that distinguish among different types of teen court programs: (1) referral source, (2) offenses, (3) alternative to, (4) recidivism measurement, and (5) sanctions. Perhaps the most apparent difference between programs is based on where referrals come from. Whereas diversion teen courts receive referrals from law enforcement agencies and juvenile justice system entities, disciplinary teen courts receive referrals from school personnel (Cotter & Evans, 2017). Thus, it follows that in terms of offenses, diversion teen courts hear cases for arrest-eligible offenses (typically misdemeanor and status offenses) whereas disciplinary teen courts hear cases for school-based offenses (typically violations of school policy). Together, the first two domains of the ROARS framework illustrate the importance of distinguishing between these two types of programs. That is, the youths served by each of these programs are likely markedly different. For instance, youths referred to diversion teen court after being arrested may be at higher risk for reoffending than their counterparts who are referred to disciplinary teen court for minor school misbehavior. The third domain of the ROARS framework answers the question “What is the program an alternative to?” For diversion teen court programs, participants would otherwise be processed in the juvenile justice system. Diversion teen court programs exist to divert nonchronic youth offenders from the juvenile justice system to prevent potential unintended consequences of justice system involvement, such as increased delinquency (Petrosino et al., 2010) and future involvement with the criminal justice system in adulthood (Gatti, Tremblay, & Vitaro, 2009). In disciplinary teen court programs, teen court participants would otherwise receive consequences from school, such as suspensions and expulsions, and thus disciplinary teen court programs represent an alternative to school suspensions and expulsions. Hybrid teen court programs can function to divert youths from traditional juvenile justice system processing and provide an alternative to school suspensions and expulsions. Recidivism measurement is the fourth domain and refers to the fact that, given the key differences among the types of teen court programs, recidivism outcomes must be measured differently across programs (Cotter & Evans, 2017). Indeed, diversion teen court recidivism is often measured in terms of whether or not the adolescent has been rearrested or otherwise involved with the justice system in a given time frame. Alternatively, disciplinary teen court programs should measure recidivism in terms of whether or not the youth was cited for an additional violation of school policy in a given time frame. Hybrid teen court programs should calculate and report separate recidivism rates for those youths referred by law enforcement or juvenile justice system agencies and for those referred by school personnel. The fifth and final dimension of the ROARS framework refers to common sanctions or consequences that the program participant must complete. In all three types of teen court programs, the participant is judged by a youth jury that is responsible for providing sanctions. Typical sanctions vary slightly by program type (Cotter & Evans, 2017). Diversion teen court programs typically require community service, jury duty, written apology, workshops, and essays. In addition to the sanctions typically required within diversion teen courts, disciplinary teen court programs offer some additional school-specific sanctions, such as tutoring, attending school, and school service. Hybrid teen court programs can require a combination of the aforementioned sanctions. In sum, issues with terminology and definition have acted as barriers to schools’ adoption of and involvement with the teen court model. By and large, the majority of teen court programs have operated as traditional diversion teen courts, serving an important role to divert nonchronic youth offenders from the juvenile justice system. The fact that the minority of programs operate as disciplinary and hybrid teen court programs suggests a missed opportunity to use the teen court model as an alternative to traditional school discipline practices. Adoption of the terms “diversion teen court,” “disciplinary teen court,” and “hybrid teen court” provide the specificity necessary to distinguish among different programs and highlights the potential of the teen court model as an alternative to traditional school discipline. The ROARS framework describes key differences across the three types of teen court programs, further illuminating the potential for disciplinary teen court and hybrid teen court programs to serve as alternatives to traditional school discipline methods. Teen Court–School Partnerships: A Response to a Grand Challenge In addition to the need for alternatives to traditional school disciplinary methods, the widespread existence of diversion teen court programs across the United States implies considerable opportunities for schools to forge partnerships with existing diversion teen court programs. It is estimated that there were approximately 1,048 teen court programs in the United States in 2015 (National Association of Youth Courts, 2016). If there is indeed a local diversion teen court, schools can explore the willingness of the diversion teen court program that accepts referrals solely from the justice system to also accept referrals from school personnel. In other words, schools can begin discussions about the possibility of transforming a diversion teen court into a hybrid teen court. Such a partnership may be mutually beneficial given that the teen court model depends on youth involvement and programs are often in need of youth volunteers. Perhaps schools can offer to assist in the recruitment of youth volunteers as part of the teen court–school partnership. The second way in which schools can use the teen court model as an alternative to suspensions and expulsions is by developing a disciplinary teen court to address issues of misbehavior within the school. There are multiple ways in which school-based disciplinary teen courts can be implemented. For instance, the program can operate as a class focused on law-related education (Pima County Teen Court, 2016), a team of school staff members and students working together to identify appropriate cases (Norton, Gold, & Peralta, 2013), or a collaborative effort between law school students and middle schools (Cole & Heilig, 2011). Although the structure of disciplinary teen court programs differs across schools, according to the Pima County Teen Court in the Schools program, there are eight core features that yield successful disciplinary teen court programs: (1) confidentiality (that is, the program should ensure a safe place where the participant can discuss the issue without fear of gossip or retaliation), (2) admission of guilt (that is, the program is not a trial of guilt or innocence), (3) parent involvement (that is, parent permission is required and individual schools may require parent attendance), (4) professionalism and preparation (that is, the importance of courtroom demeanor and active preparation for teen attorneys and jury members), (5) avoiding the use of witnesses, (6) constructive consequences (that is, students are given responsibility to develop consequences that offer an opportunity for learning and reflection), (7) ensuring successful completion (that is, realistic time frames for consequences and follow-up to ensure completion), and (8) support from administration (that is, school administrators must be in support of the program and agree to provide discipline referrals) (Pima County Teen Court, 2016). By incorporating these core components, schools can develop their own disciplinary teen court program that meets the needs of their students and operates within the constraints of their specific school community. The Role of School Social Workers in Teen Court–School Partnerships School social workers can play a key role in teen court–school partnerships, from initial discussions to implementation and evaluation. First, school social workers can initiate a discussion among school personnel about the teen court model and how the model might fit with the school’s goals surrounding overall climate and school discipline. Social workers can present the aforementioned ways to incorporate the teen court model into the school community by developing a partnership with an existing teen court program or developing a disciplinary teen court program. As the support of school faculty and administration is necessary for program success (Pima County Teen Court, 2016), it is essential that early discussions encourage an open dialogue in which the perspective of each member of the school community (principal, assistant principal, teacher, social worker, counselor, staff member) is considered. In these discussions, the school social worker can emphasize the flexibility of the teen court model to fit the needs and context of the school. Second, school social workers can act as the liaison in partnership discussions between school administrators and the local diversion teen court program. Furthermore, if the school community decides to implement a disciplinary teen court program, the school social worker can be integral in the implementation process. A number of conversations are necessary to facilitate key program decisions, including the types of offenses that will be heard by the program, who will make referrals, the nature of possible sanctions or consequences, when cases will be heard, who will facilitate the program, and how youths will be chosen to participate on the peer jury. School social workers may also be involved in the facilitation of the program once it is in place. In addition, school social workers can evaluate the effectiveness of the teen court–school partnership or newly developed disciplinary teen court program. According to the evidence-informed process for school social work practice (Kelly, Raines, Stone, & Frey, 2010), outcome evaluation is a key component of school social work practice. In the context of teen court programs, the flexibility of the teen court model to meet specific school contexts and needs is advantageous, but this flexibility also makes evaluation all the more crucial. With regard to evaluation of teen court–school partnerships, school social workers can track additional instances of school policy violations for students referred to diversion teen court and collaborate with diversion teen court staff members to collect data on successful program completion. School policy violations and successful completion of consequences should also be tracked for disciplinary teen court programs. Pretest–posttest designs can also be implemented to measure change in specific outcomes of interest, such as school engagement, commitment to school, delinquent behavior, and aggression. School social workers should also consider using experimental designs when possible given that they provide the strongest evidence of effectiveness. Finally, school social workers can also explore the extent to which the restorative justice components of teen court can be incorporated into their own daily practice. Minor instances of misconduct or conflict can be resolved by providing students with the opportunity to repair harm and restore relationships with both individuals and the larger school community. Consequences that are in line with the principles of restorative justice might include letters of apology, restitution, or meaningful school service. These discipline strategies for minor discretions can be combined with a formalized restorative justice approach for more serious misbehavior, such as the teen court programs described earlier. By incorporating a continuum of restorative justice practices, school social workers can help cultivate a schoolwide restorative approach to discipline. Advocating for a continuum of restorative justice practices may be particularly important for social workers serving schools with large proportions of African American students. Although restorative justice approaches may be particularly beneficial for youths of color, one study reported that a larger percentage of African American students in a school was associated with decreased odds that the school used restorative justice programming (Payne & Welch, 2015). Thus, although African American students may have more to gain through restorative justice programs given that they are more likely to receive punitive disciplinary actions, the schools that these youths attend are less likely to implement such programs. School social workers can examine existing school discipline practices and advocate for restorative justice programs to replace exclusionary discipline practices. Some Cautionary Notes on the Teen Court Model Although teen court–school partnerships are a promising strategy to address the disproportionality in school discipline, some specific issues should be considered by schools before incorporating the teen court model. The extent to which teen court models are in line with restorative justice principles can vary significantly. Simply filling traditional court roles with youths will not result in a program that emphasizes the reparation of harm and mending relationships. Therefore, the principles of restorative justice should inform the development of possible sanctions and peer jury trainings. Furthermore, it is necessary to consider the potential for the teen court process to cause stigmatization or shame among participants. Encouraging an open dialogue with the school community around this issue is recommended. For instance, careful forethought on the terminology that is used to refer to the youths who participate in the program can serve to minimize stigmatization and shame. Existing teen court programs, for example, use the terms “respondent” or “participant” rather than “defendant” (for example, Center for Court Innovation, 2011). Ensuring that a diverse body of youths makes up the peer jury can also decrease the potential for shame among participants. Indeed, qualitative feedback in one teen court program evaluation indicated participant dissatisfaction that the peer jury was made up of mostly high-achieving students (Reichel & Seyfrit, 1984). Many teen court programs involve previous teen court participants on peer juries to foster an environment of mutual understanding and a focus on moving forward by repairing harm. Conclusion Exclusionary discipline practices disproportionately affect students of color. The prevalence and consequences of disproportionality in exclusionary school discipline make it a grand challenge for the field of school social work. School social workers can work with school administrators to evaluate current school discipline policies and introduce alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. Based on principles of restorative justice, the teen court model is a promising alternative to traditional school discipline methods. The ROARS framework provides a guide for distinguishing among the different types of teen court programs (diversion, disciplinary, and hybrid) and thereby illuminates the utility of the teen court model as a school discipline alternative. School social workers can play a key role in developing teen court–school partnerships, including facilitating discussions about the role of teen court within the school community, forging partnerships with local diversion teen court programs, assisting in the development of school-based disciplinary teen court programs, and evaluating program outcomes. References American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force. ( 2008). Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? An evidentiary review and recommendations. American Psychologist, 63, 852– 862. CrossRef Search ADS Bright, C. L., Young, D. 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