School Discipline – Part I – Disciplinary Policies in Public Schools

Several generations ago, students were much better behaved in public schools than they are today. It’s not that they were necessarily better kids; it’s just that times were different back then and kids were raised to respect authority. Even the slightest infraction could have resulted in getting paddled by the teacher or principal, which would have been completely humiliating, or they could have gotten suspended from school. And either of those punishments most certainly would have been followed by dealing with an angry mom or dad once they got home.

Today’s teachers and administrators have a very different experience when it comes to disciplining kids in our public schools.

Corporal punishment is now banned in 31 states across the country, so it has become big news when a teacher or administrator does lay a hand on a student. There’s now a big push from the federal and state governments to eliminate both suspensions and expulsions regardless of how badly a student misbehaves.

The U.S. Department of Education recommends that teachers and administrators move away from any punitive punishments and focus on the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of all students instead.

There are many state laws in place that make it nearly impossible for school districts to discipline their students punitively, even in the most extreme cases of assault. In other words, you’re no longer supposed to punish the student who’s guilty of wrongdoing, you’re supposed to “help them”.  This goes against the grain of teaching right from wrong.

The U.S. Department of Education created a School Discipline Guidance Package as a road map for teachers and administrators to follow. It includes 3 guiding principles that they believe will lead to safe supportive schools for everyone:

  • Create positive climates and focus on prevention
  • Develop clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations and consequences to address disruptive student behaviors
  • Ensure fairness, equity, and continuous improvement

While all school districts operate independently of one another, many now use these guiding principles and programs like restorative justice in place of punitive punishments. In fact, 21 states have now legislated the use of restorative justice in all classrooms.

Restorative justice seeks to teach kids conflict resolution skills and give them regular positive feedback instead of negative feedback or punishment.  Proponents of these types of programs claim that discipline creates an overall negative school climate and that it unfairly targets certain groups of students, while restorative practices help schools prevent behavior issues before they happen.

Critics, on the other hand, point out that the steady increase of school violence, including physical assault of teachers and staff, proves that it doesn’t work and that extremely disruptive students should be removed from school to keep everyone else safe.  For those disruptive students, they know and exploit the fact that teachers and administrators hands are tied and they escalate to the level of disrespect and violence knowing there are no consequences.t

Critics believe that restorative circles can work great for students who are simply argumentative or have a lot of tardiness issues, but forcing a teacher to talk about their feelings with a student who hit, kicked, bit, or spit on them is not effective.

Regardless of personal opinion, schools across the country are moving in this direction.  And, many schools are seeing a huge increase in the level and frequency of violence.