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Discipline and Punishment: Student Codes of Conduct and Discipline Policies

Every school has a mission to provide a safe learning environment. District policy usually includes student responsibilities in a student code of conduct. Students must follow these codes throughout their educational careers.

The district usually gives student codes of conduct to students and their parents as a handbook. This usually happens at the beginning of the school year. Some states have codified school codes in state laws. But, most states allow school districts and individual schools to develop policies and codes. They must still impose specific minimum requirements. This way, the code remains standardized throughout the state.

The board of education is typically responsible for drafting these codes. They cover a wide range of student behavior in school, during school days, and even outside of school. This article briefly overviews student discipline through student codes of conduct.

Provisions of Student Codes of Conduct

Student codes of conduct guide the behavior of all students. These codes govern public schools or charter schools. They apply on the school bus and at school-sponsored activities. They cover dress codes and the use of controlled substances (like illegal drugs). They cover behavior that could cause serious bodily injury and other misbehavior. The codes also address more sensitive issues, like sexual assault and hazing.

Although codes of conduct vary, most codes share standard provisions and common goals. Violating the code of conduct may result in a disciplinary proceeding against the student. The standard components of a typical student code of conduct are:

  • Student Expectations: Behavioral and moral guidelines that the school expects each student to follow
  • Prohibitions: Specific behaviors that the code of conduct forbids students from engaging in
  • Pledge: A pledge to abide by the school's code of conduct that students usually must sign
  • Discipline Process: How and when the school may punish a student, as well as the different punishments

Codes of conduct also exist for parents and school administrators. These policies lay out the responsibilities of the parents and school leaders. Some school districts also provide codes of conduct for other school-related activities. This can include sporting events, field trips, and bus transportation.

School Discipline Policies

As with student codes of conduct, student discipline procedures vary by state and school district. Some states give students more rights and protections than others. Other states may only give students the minimal protections the Constitution requires.

When students fail to abide by these codes, school officials may implement disciplinary action. The school principal or their designee may impose the discipline. The extent of such action may range from in-school suspension to out-of-school suspension or even, as a last resort, expulsion. Specific actions may necessitate law enforcement involvement. These may include behaviors that cause bodily harm.

A typical discipline policy usually includes multiple levels of punishment. These vary depending on the severity of the violation. From least severe to most severe, these levels generally include:

  • Referral to Administrators or Detention: For minor offenses
  • Suspension: For more extreme behavior
  • Removal to an Alternative Education Program: For students with recurring behavioral problems
  • Expulsion: For students who have committed serious crimes or who have caused or threatened physical harm

In addition to listing the possible punishments, school policies usually list the student's rights during disciplinary proceedings. Federal law and amendments to education law in the United States Code (U.S.C.) dictate due process in these situations. For instance, the school must give the student's parents written notice before taking disciplinary action. This gives them a chance to defend their child.

Discipline Policies for Off-Campus Conduct

Conduct that happens off school grounds but impacts the school climate can also be subject to discipline. School officials can take action if a student's behavior off campus is disruptive. The district can hold students accountable to maintain a positive school environment. Additionally, on-campus behavior continued after school hours can result in discipline.

The code also addresses issues like cyberbullying and online harassment. These issues have prompted many school districts to police students' online activity. Some of these policies have been challenged in court and struck down for violating students' free speech rights.

Special Education and Discipline

Many discipline policies consider whether a student has a learning or other disability. Some policies also consider if a student has a mental health issue. Schools accommodate the difference these issues can make in a student's mindset. They do this by providing more rights or protections to these students.

Discipline can be more complex when it involves special education students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). In these cases, the board must ensure that the student's ability to receive their educational services is not interrupted.

Schools may use measures like a functional behavioral assessment or a behavioral intervention plan to tailor disciplinary actions to the student's unique needs. This approach aligns with the trend toward positive behavioral interventions and restorative practices. This method prioritizes understanding and modifying problematic behavior over punitive measures.

Corporal Punishment in Schools Today

Corporal punishment in schools refers to physical punishment like paddling or spanking. Once common, many state laws have outlawed this practice. Changes in education law and greater emphasis on school safety have led to this shift. School personnel today focus on guiding and teaching rather than enforcing physical discipline. However, some states and schools still use corporal punishment on school property.

Discipline and Community Service

In some cases, disciplinary action may involve community service. This offers students an opportunity to make amends and learn valuable life skills. Such measures foster a respectful and inclusive school environment. This method also provides students with lessons beyond school days and school rules.

Say a high school student has many unexcused absences. The school could impose suspension or expulsion (as a last resort). A school employee may suggest community service instead. Many schools have community service as part of the school program. These methods allow students to learn valuable lessons and responsibility. They can also understand the impact of their actions without being removed from the school setting.

Getting Legal Help

The complexities of navigating student discipline and punishment can sometimes require legal help. If parents feel their child has been unfairly treated, they can appeal to the school board, board of education, or department of education.

A student or their parent may feel their rights were violated in the educational process. In these cases, getting legal help can be crucial. This can happen when discipline for a school code of conduct violation seems unjust. Another situation is when students feel unfairly targeted during school activities. Lawyers concentrating in education law can help guide families through this legal maze.

Legal professionals can help families understand their legal rights. Attorneys can also help ensure the student's due process rights are not violated. They can help them understand what actions school staff may take. They can help ensure a student's voice is heard and their rights are upheld.

Talk to an educational lawyer.

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