Date of Award

Spring 4-15-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Marc Brasof

Second Advisor

Christina Ager

Third Advisor

Barry McCurdy


School discipline and safety has been an ongoing concern in the United States, as well as statistics about the students that are affected by these concerns. Extreme programming such as zero tolerance has created a pathway for students with safety concerns and disruptive behaviors toward alternative education programs. Unfortunately, simply removing students from public schools has not extinguished the undesired behaviors, but may actually increase more severe and frequent discipline problems, as well as restricted these students from needed and accessible programs. While PBIS in Alternative Education (AE) settings has encouraging outcomes, little research is available in these settings where the most severe behavioral needs exist. More specifically, the nature of these schools is to support students who have generally failed in traditional settings because of their mental health or disability, aggressive behavior, and low academic achievement.

This exploratory qualitative study examined the approach used to develop a pro-social culture in an alternative special education school for children with emotional and severe behavioral disabilities. A secondary purpose was to understand the student perspective of their social culture and social competence, identifying what students know about their common language, experiences, and values in the PBIS approach.

The tentative findings of this study describe that a PBIS approach is a complex system and when implemented with fidelity, can be effective in developing a prosocial culture and school climate that reflects norms, values, perceptions of safety, and interpersonal relationships in an alternative special education setting. Additional findings may suggest that in a PBIS approach, social competence is the knowledge that all students know the rules and expectations and adherence to those conditions may affect the relationships between students and teachers. Students in this setting have demonstrated social competence, meaning they can learn the knowledge and skills to value the common language and behaviors across school settings. While students learn the language and behaviors to access extrinsic rewards, developing moral character also appears to have importance, as students’ feelings of self-fulfillment shift the focus from extrinsic rewards to intrinsic motivation of valuing the PBIS social culture. As an indicator of the prosocial culture and school climate, students appear to create deep meaning of the PBIS social culture by means of their impression of themselves in the school community.