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Contextual Inquiry of
Detroit Public Schools Community District

Group Project / Course Assignment / Sep-Dec 2022




The Detroit Public Schools Community District’s mission is to educate and empower students to build a stronger Detroit. They work towards this mission by providing students access to education and personal development opportunities. The Student Code of Conduct Office is responsible for overseeing the process of requesting to move students to an alternative placement school or to expel students for inappropriate behavior. 

To meet the organizational needs of the Office of Student Code of Conduct at the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the district must be able to respond to student behavior through a modernized process. They need a simple and effective way to record disciplinary decisions, communicate with all parties involved, and display findings that can be easily applied to future cases.

Client’s Mission

The Detroit Public School Community District is Michigan’s largest public school district, encompassing over one hundred schools across the city of Detroit. The district’s mission is to utilize education as a tool to empower students to work together to build a stronger Detroit. The Detroit Public School Community District’s Office of Student Code of Conduct oversees all processes involved with school requests for various student disciplinary actions, including alternative placement and expulsion.


Background Research

Doing background research on our client can provide insights that can inform and supplement the ground-level view of our client’s specific problem gained through interviews and observations. As a team of 5, we decided to split the task to do background research. Thus, we can cover different aspects of clients, projects, or related topics.


Our Findings

History of  DPSCD

Established in 1842

It had 45,000 students in 2017

Inappropriate Behavior Category

No unified classification

5 levels in NYC

Alternative School

It's successful with the low-income and minority students in the neighborhood


Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act prevents inappropriate info disclosure

FERPA Protect Students

 FERPA amendment procedure is useful in balancing the disciplinary system.

Current Interventions

Classroom support, communication to the guardian, suspension, removal

Current Challenges

Many schools within a district have their own Code of Conduct system and process

Decision Processes

Both parties must have the opportunity to challenge or appeal the decision

Disciplinary Responses

Expulsion is less than suspension

Repeated violations will result in expulsion

Digitalized System

Education management information systems(EMIS) are easy to implement



To gain a better understanding of the problem, we intend to conduct interviews with three types of groups and have formulated different research questions for different groups. Finally, 6 interviews have been conducted.



Traditional School Administrators

Alternative School Administrators

What is the hearing officer’s role in the collaborative process, and how do they envision this changing for a more improved expulsion and suspension process?

What role do traditional school administrators play regarding district student behavior, and what perspective do they have on the current process?

At what phase do the alternative school administrators enter the process of student relocation, and what is their goal for future involvement?


Affinity Wall

After completing the 6 interviews, we sorted out the notes and analyzed them in the affinity wall using Miro. In the beginning, we had 226 interview notes. For approximately 8 hours, we organized the notes according to shared themes, and then placed these themes into meta clusters.  And after three rounds of collation, we got 6 main findings.

M013B - Affinity Wall (1).jpg

And here is our Miro board. Feel free to explore!


Findings & Recommandations

A. Findings



Restorative Process


Need for a

Centralized System

Lack of


Existing System is


Transitions for

Alternative Placement

The process suffers from a lack of documentation, school administrator participation, and a variety of structural and communication issues.

Restorative discipline would require more staff and time that the schools cannot supply amidst the requirements. And the Code of Conduct Office itself does not focus on restoration. 

DPSCD appears to place the greatest emphasis on paper records, which is inconvenient and impractical for easily viewing the entire picture for each student, school, and district.

The current disciplinary process deprives schools of autonomy and flexibility and results in low trust in the system and inefficiency. 

The time-consuming is the result of more than just the review panel. There is a significant amount of paper and manual work involved, resulting in a lengthy and inefficient process.

The procedures and transitions for student placements in alternative settings appear to be an afterthought, leaving alternative schools with numerous unknown details.

B. Recommandations


Restorative Practices

Establishing a

Centralized System







Restorative intervention strategies emphasize supportive approaches to assisting students in repairing the damage that has already been done.

We are recommending that DPSCD establishes a centralized system in order to implement more efficient, standardized disciplinary processes.

We suggest providing more autonomy and flexibility for school districts and involving different stakeholders to take part in the expulsion alternative placement hearings.

Currently, some duplication of work occurs at different steps, and some miscommunication and negative responses from interested parties can lead to a serious lag in the workflow.

Using Disciplinary levels is to reduce the average time for filling out a hearing packet, sending it to The Code Office, and awaiting a response to minimize the time lost for students.



While the Office of Student Code of Conduct faces a number of unique challenges in providing a more restorative process across the district, we are confident that these obstacles can be overcome by taking one step at a time. The main conclusions and recommendations for the Code office are outlined in this study, with the provision of a centralized system to facilitate the collecting and organization of data being the most important recommendation. Although the recommendations may first seem like a lot of work, we are confident that they will result in a better and more effective approach in the long run.

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