School Discipline Reform

April 30, 2019

Until recently, a student who demonstrated behavioral issues in school would be disciplined with a suspension. Now, in many schools throughout America, that student is back in the classroom the next day. This is the result of a sea change in school discipline reform. This article will explore school discipline reform and alternative disciplinary methods for schools.

School discipline reform is an effort to re-evaluate how schools respond to and punish student misconduct. Advocates for school discipline reform argue that suspensions and expulsion disproportionately affect minority students, and students with disabilities.

Advocates of reform maintain that those types of discipline only hinder a student’s performance and make youths more likely to drop out of school. Many schools are looking to replace suspensions and expulsions with alternative strategies that keep students in the classroom and help the students address underlying issues that are causing the misbehavior.

What do Teachers Think?

In a recent poll by Educators for Excellence, a multi-state organization made up of educators who want to elevate the teaching profession, only 39 percent of teachers think out-of-school, suspensions or expulsions are effective at improving student behavior. In another poll by Education Next, a leading educational news magazine, only 29 percent of teachers supported federal policies that prevented schools from suspending or expelling black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students.

The results of these surveys show that teachers have a complicated view of school discipline reform. According to a recent Educators for Excellence survey, a strong majority of teachers do not think discipline which removes the student from the educational environment is effective. However, the Education Next survey also shows that teachers do not favor policies that limit their ability to discipline students.

Rescinding of Obama Guidance

In December 2018, the Trump Administration rescinded the Obama administration’s school discipline guidance. The repealed guidance suggested that schools would violate federal civil rights laws if they disciplined minority students at higher rates than their peers. The guidance presented federal data that showed black and Latino students were disciplined at higher rates than white students.

Proponents of the repeal argue that Obama-era guidance did a disservice to students and schools, creating an unsafe classroom environment where teachers were unable to control students. However, Jonathan Stith, the national director of the Alliance for Educational Justice, said, “Efforts to harden schools will only criminalize youth of color while perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline.”

What are the Alternatives?

The school discipline reform movement has led many schools to search for alternatives in an effort to limit punitive discipline. In 2016 and 2017 over a dozen states enacted legislation addressing the use of suspension and expulsion. Several other states have begun to encourage the use of non-punitive discipline strategies, without legally requiring them.

Non-punitive discipline strategies generally aim to keep students in the classroom while providing the students with means to address the underlying issues. These alternative approaches are designed to help develop students’ social and emotional skills. For example, rather than receiving a suspension, a misbehaving student may be sent to the school’s counselor to try to understand what personal or social issues are causing the student to act out. In some schools teachers select alternatives to punitive discipline, such as restorative practices (helping students understand the consequences of their actions and make amends) and positive behavioral intervention and support.

Some schools have even created “school discipline committees” made up of Guidance Counselors, Deans of Discipline and Principals, to have a more balanced review of incidents. Expulsions have been more measured and support efforts are incorporated into individually -designed programs, so that the students can transition back to class, as soon as they are ready and have been cleared to do so.

Bottom Line

The world of student discipline is changing rapidly. It may no longer be appropriate to suspend or expel a troubled student. Sometimes, a situation requires a creative solution to the problem.

We have helped our clients tailor custom disciplinary actions that best serve both the school at-large and the student. Feel free to contact us if you or your leadership team have a challenging disciplinary issue.

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