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Discipline and Punishment: Student Codes of Conduct and Discipline Policies

Just as parents and students have expectations of the curriculum and learning environment that schools should provide, schools also have expectations of students and parents for facilitating that environment. These student responsibilities are usually laid out in a "code of conduct" that students are expected to follow throughout their educational career.

Student codes of conduct are usually given to students and their parents in the form of a handbook handed out at the beginning of the school year. Some states have codified school codes in state laws, but most states allow individual school districts and even individual schools to develop their own policies and codes. Even when school districts are given the authority to write their own policies, many states impose certain minimum requirements so that codes of conduct are somewhat standardized throughout the state.

Provisions of Student Codes of Conduct

Although student codes of conduct vary by state and school district, most codes share common provisions and common goals. Violating the code of conduct usually results in a disciplinary proceeding brought against the student. The common 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 students are forbidden 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 a student may be disciplined, as well as the different punishments that may be imposed

In addition to codes of conduct for students, a school district might also include codes of conduct for parents and for the school administrators. These policies dictate the respective responsibilities of the parents and school leaders in the student's learning process. Some school districts also provide codes of conduct for other school-related activities, such as 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 provide students with more rights and protections when it comes to investigating wrongdoing and imposing punishments, while other states may only give students the minimal protections required by the Constitution.

A typical discipline policy is usually broken up into multiple levels of punishment depending on the student's conduct. From least severe to most severe, these levels generally include:

  • Referral to Administrators or Detention - for minor offenses
  • Suspension - for more egregious 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 to fellow students or school staff members

In addition to listing the different possible punishments and the types of behavior that merit each punishment, school discipline policies usually list the student's rights during disciplinary proceedings. Policies might also list the rights of parents and the powers and responsibilities of school administrators at each step in the process.

Many discipline policies also take into consideration whether a student has a learning or other disability, or a mental health issue. Some schools accommodate for the difference these issues can make in a student's mindset by providing additional rights or protections.

Discipline Policies for Off-Campus Conduct

Many states have extended their discipline policies to cover student conduct off campus or after school hours. Almost every school has the power to discipline students for off-campus conduct that directly interferes with the learning process, such as cheating on homework. Additionally, on-campus behavior continued after school hours -- such as bullying after school -- or off-campus conduct done in retaliation for on-campus activities -- students fighting in a park, for instance -- can result in an on-campus discipline proceeding.

Issues such as cyberbullying and harassment through social media have prompted many school districts to police students' online activity. As a result, some of these policies have been challenged in court and have been struck down for violating students' free speech rights. Parents and students should check their school district policies and state laws to determine what types of off-campus behavior violate a student's code of conduct.

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