Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
Long gone are the days where teachers and school officials could raise a paddle to students behaving badly. Today, in all but a few states the practice of corporal punishment is outlawed and schools must now determine ways to account for student misbehavior -- especially in light of a growing number of on-campus crimes by students. This section provides a historical account of school discipline and punishment, as well as a look at how school discipline has changes from external punishment to a reward based system over the years. This section also provides tips on locating school discipline policies and what to do when you believe school discipline has gone too far. Click the links below to learn more.
Discipline and Punishment: Emerging Theories
Changes in notions relating to discipline in schools have challenged administrators to develop theories and programs for the disciplining of students that avoid harsh consequences for misbehaving students while maintaining a safe and orderly environment for other students and teachers to learn in. Increasingly, schools hope to work with students to change their behavior for the positive, rather than simply punishing bad behavior. Several different views have gathered some popularities as communities seek creative solutions to the disciplining and punishment of students.
One approach to school discipline looks to implement school-wide policies that reinforce good behavior rather than introducing harsh punitive consequences like suspension. These positive behavior intervention and support initiatives focus on a core set of rules and rewarding positive behavior complying with them. Behavior problems are addressed one-on-one with students and add steps to the punishment process including short detentions and student-parent conferences before resorting to more serious penalties.
The National Association of School Psychologists promotes the notion of making "teachable moments" out of disciplinary issues. Student interaction is focused on self-discipline rather than simply replacing punishing bad students with rewarding good ones. Rather than seek to control behavior, administrators guide students by helping them understand the consequences of their actions and collaborating with peers to develop solutions.
Finally, zero-tolerance policies implement mandatory, automatic, and often harsh punishments for certain behaviors. These policies are intended to communicate that some violations have no excuse and will never be tolerated regardless of the students' reasons for engaging in them. Zero-tolerance policies often focus on serious issues such as the possession and use of guns, drugs, and other serious contraband.
Truancy is a term for skipping school or otherwise having an unexcused absence from school without the knowledge of a parent or guardian. Although truancy has been depicted in books and films as the lighthearted pastime of harmless scamps it can prevent students from receiving a complete education and disrupt schools' attempts to ensure consistency and reliability in their classrooms.
Truancy is also an issue for the entire community since links between truancy and substance abuse, vandalism, auto theft, and gang activity have all been established. Juvenile daytime crime rates are often directly linked to rates of truancy. Finally, truants are unlikely to graduate from high school, affecting the individual, but also resulting in social ills well into the child's adulthood, causing loss in tax revenue, health problems, and strains on social services.
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