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Palmetto Parent

Questions Families Should Ask About School Discipline

Sep 26, 2017 04:03PM ● By Lori Coon
By Kristen Harper, senior policy specialist

School discipline practices have shifted dramatically in recent years, following changes in school district and state policy. Data and research have illustrated the high rates of suspension and expulsion, the consequences of such discipline for students, and the disparities in discipline practice by race and disability. In response, many communities have worked to promote school safety and attendance by replacing exclusionary discipline methods with approaches that effectively prevent and address student misbehavior.

Now that the new school year has begun, parents should review their school’s code of student conduct (or student handbook) to learn their school’s plan to safeguard student safety and learning, keep students in school, and ensure that discipline is administered fairly and equitably.

Below are five questions for which parents should know answers. If you can’t find the answers, ask your school or, if needed, your school district. You can also look up your school and school district’s past use of school discipline, by student race, gender, and disability, using this tool from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

1. What does my school do to prevent misbehavior?

The best disciplinary strategy aims to prevent unsafe and disorderly behaviors before they happen. Take note of any strategies your school uses to clarify its expectations for student behavior, support students’ social and emotional skills, and promote mental health. Such approaches may include social and emotional learningpositive behavioral interventions and supportsrestorative practices, and other methods. If these or similar strategies are not included in the code of student conduct, ask the school directly.

Parents should also have access to information about which school staff members are available to support students’ needs, including school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers. For parents of children with disabilities, note that federal law requires that individualized development programs (or IEPs) include behavioral supports if the child needs them to make progress in school.

2. What behaviors place my child at risk of removal from class or school?

In-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, and expulsion are traditional forms of school discipline. Nearly 3 million children receive an out-of-school suspension each year. However, these approaches come at great cost: children suspended or expelled are more likely to drop out, be held back a grade, and be involved in the juvenile justice system than their peers.

Parents, take into account which behaviors trigger a suspension or expulsion; this will help you determine whether, in your view, discipline policies are fair, nondiscriminatory, age appropriate, and necessary to keep schools safe. Take note of processes for appealing a suspension or expulsion. Given the risks to children when they are suspended or expelled, and the potential cost to their learning, states and school districts have begun discouraging or disallowing these forms of discipline for children in preschool and the early grades, or for offenses that are more subjectively determined, such as insubordination.

There are other instances when a child might be removed from class or school. The rare time out or trip to the office might provide students a chance to calm down, or signal the need for more parent-teacher collaboration. However, be wary of informal requests to pick children up early or keep them home in place of an official, documented suspension; these place a burden on parents while hiding potential problems with school discipline practices.

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Child Trends is the nation’s leading research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families. For 36 years, decision makers have relied on our rigorous research, unbiased analyses, and clear communications to improve public policies and interventions that serve children and families. We have more than 120 staff in three offices and multiple locations around the country, including our headquarters in Bethesda, Md.   

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