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Student Discipline and Punishment: Background

Student behavior significantly impacts a school's learning environment. So, it's important to monitor and manage student conduct throughout the school year. To achieve this, schools apply discipline policies that guide student behavior. They take disciplinary action when necessary. These practices can vary significantly from one school district to another. This is largely due to differences in state law and federal law.

During the 1990s and 2000s, people in the United States started asking new, worrying questions about how students behave. They questioned how schools should discipline students. Teachers, police officers, governments, courts, parents, and others were concerned. In the late 1990s, some students committed serious crimes at school. These crimes included murder, suicide, and assault. They also included major property damage. These events were so serious that everyone started paying more attention to the challenges schools face with students who act out in dangerous, illegal ways.

Schools began to increase security to protect students. But they sometimes bumped into problems with students' legal rights. One important right is due process, which means treating everyone fairly under the law and giving them notice and a right to be heard. But schools also had to deal with other common problems. Physical fights between students, as well as students using drugs, caused problems. Students carrying weapons and stealing also caused concerns. These issues made it harder for schools to focus on their main goals: teaching and helping students learn.

This article provides a brief overview of student discipline in American schools.

The Definition of Discipline in a School Setting

Discipline is a system of rules for managing behavior and maintaining order. In a school context, discipline refers to the practices and policies school administrators and staff members implement to manage student conduct. Discipline might involve a referral to a behavior intervention program. It could also mean an in-school suspension or an out-of-school suspension. It can also mean community service and other sanctions. When an infraction occurs on school grounds, school officials put it on the student's record. Sometimes, even off-campus behavior might result in disciplinary action. This is true if it impacts the school environment or school activities.

The term "discipline" is similar to "disciple." Discipline, in one sense, means learning, and a disciple is one who learns. But "discipline" can mean a few different things, especially regarding minors in the U.S. public school system. One meaning of discipline is training or experience that helps shape someone's thinking. It also helps them get a sense of what is right and wrong. Discipline can also mean punishment to correct behavior.

Discipline also means ensuring that people follow rules. This helps create an orderly and controlled environment. It is often guided by specific rules or codes that schools set for their students. But discipline isn't just about rules and punishments. It's also about learning self-control and developing skills that help you make good choices. It helps students work well with others and aims to help them become better people. These skills can help you resist things that might lead you down the wrong path. All these different paths of discipline are important to teachers as they try to find the best ways to help kids grow and learn.

The Role of the Board of Education and the Department of Education

The Board of Education and the Department of Education play pivotal roles in shaping school discipline. These entities design and enforce discipline policies in alignment with U.S.C., federal, and state laws. Their primary aim is to create a safe school environment that fosters positive behavior. They also aim to protect the civil rights of all students, regardless of their national origin or sexual orientation.

The designee is a school staff member chosen to take on the responsibilities of a higher-ranking official. They play a critical role in the disciplinary process. They are often tasked with communicating the school's code of conduct to students. They must issue citations for violations. They must also make decisions about disciplinary action when needed.

High school is a critical period in a student's educational journey. The conduct of high school students can directly impact their academic performance. It can also impact their overall school experience. Teachers and administrators in the school work hard to keep the learning environment orderly. When a student enrolls in a new school, their disciplinary record often accompanies them. This record contains any infractions the student may have committed at their previous institution. The new school uses this information to understand the student's past behavior and help guide any necessary interventions.

University disciplinary procedures can differ a lot from those in high schools. At the university level, “preponderance" often comes into play. This is the idea that disciplinary action is warranted when there is more evidence suggesting a student did violate a rule than evidence suggesting they did not. The university's code of student conduct typically details this concept of preponderance.

Dress Code and Discipline

Schools also use dress codes to regulate student behavior. Many schools use a dress code policy to create a respectful learning environment. These policies usually apply during school days on school property. This includes inside the school building. Students who violate the dress code may face disciplinary action.

Special Education and the Disciplinary Process

When a student in a special education program violates the student code of conduct, the disciplinary process can be more complex. Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) may require specific accommodations. Sanctions for these students are usually evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There may be a manifestation determination to find out if the misbehavior of a special education student is a manifestation of their disability. The student's parents and school personnel are involved in these decisions to ensure consideration of the student's mental health.

Zero-Tolerance Policies and Their Implications

Zero-tolerance policies enforce strict consequences for certain behaviors. Severe behaviors include sexual assault or causing bodily injury. While these policies aim to maintain school safety, they have come under scrutiny. Critics argue that they may not consider relevant information or the individual student's situation.

Origin of Corporal Punishment

Some parts of school discipline originated from Puritan beliefs. Puritans believed that all disobedience and academic error were the work of Satan. They believed children's tendency to do wrong had to be stopped with pain and embarrassment. They believed this would correct the bad behavior. This belief influenced how they set up their institutions. They also used this idea in schools. Some schools would make students sit on raised stools. Sometimes, they would require students to wear dunce caps to embarrass them for misbehaving or not knowing something.

People used to believe that if you didn't physically punish a child, you would spoil them. People believed in the practice of slapping, spanking, or whipping children. These tactics were generally seen as beneficial educational tools. These beliefs stuck around for a long time. In fact, in 1977, a case called Ingraham v. Wright came to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court decided that spanking students didn't violate their rights. They noted that many schools used physical punishment to keep order. After that, physical punishment stayed legal in over 20 states.

Corporal punishment has a deep-rooted history in school discipline. However, society's understanding of children's mental health has evolved. Many school districts and the Board of Education have moved away from these practices. Federal law now protects students from such harsh punishment. However, some states still allow it under strict conditions.

Navigating Citations in the Education Setting

When students break a rule from the student conduct code, the school gives them official warnings called “citations." Citations are a formal way of recognizing the rule breaking. Schools typically have a system for dealing with citations. This might involve meetings with a designated person and, if needed, setting fitting punishments.

In short, handling student behavior is a complex part of how schools work. It requires the cooperation of many people, like the student's parents, school staff, and sometimes lawyers. All work together with one goal in mind: creating a positive and safe place for everyone to learn. The ways to do this change a lot from high school to university. But the main goal is always the same: to help students behave positively.

Getting Legal Help

School discipline helps shape the learning environment and control student behavior. It's very important to make sure these processes respect each student's rights. It also helps them meet their individual needs, which helps them grow. As we keep changing the way we teach, we also need to change the way we handle discipline to create a more inclusive and safe place for all students.

Sometimes, punishing a student might violate their rights. When this happens, it's critical to seek legal help. This could mean getting advice on the discipline process or having someone represent the student in a legal case against a school or school district.

Talk to an education attorney today.

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