Voices from the Field

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to learn what experts -- researchers, practitioners, family -- from across the country think by reading a short post that includes the latest promising practices on a range of school climate topics, along with references and related resources.

How receptive is your community to taking positive approaches to school discipline?

Did you know that students who are suspended or expelled from school are three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system in the next school year? 1, 2 The evolution of zero-tolerance school disciplinary policies and practices are resulting in widespread suspensions, expulsions, and involvement in the justice system. Relatively minor school dress or conduct code violations that used to warrant a slap on the wrist have led to more extreme penalties, and as a result students are finding it more difficult to keep up with coursework and stay engaged in school.

Students of color and students with disabilities are most affected. A recent longitudinal study of over one million students in Texas revealed that racial disparities in discipline persist, even after controlling for dozens of factors.3 In the national Office of Civil Rights data collection, 17% of Black students in grades K-12 were suspended at least once in the 2009-2010 school year, and 25% of Black students with disabilities were suspended at least once.1,2

A growing body of evidence has demonstrated the negative impact of punitive and exclusionary disciplinary practices and the availability of effective, positive alternatives. In response, Federal, state, and local entities have encouraged a shift away from harsh disciplinary approaches to focusing on successful, supportive alternatives. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have launched the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, a collaboration aimed at targeting the disciplinary policies and practices that push youth into the justice system.4

School and court leaders focused on taking positive approaches to school discipline should consider these promising strategies:

  • Soliciting and securing stakeholder buy-in to address these issues from all related agencies and departments (education, juvenile justice, law enforcement, social services)
  • Collecting and analyzing data to identify unique challenges in your community
  • Enlisting a consultant to assess culture, recommend appropriate strategies
  • Reconnecting alienated youth, and teaching children how to get along
  • Providing professional development in restorative justice, conflict resolution, and classroom management
  • Implementing an early warning system tool
  • Utilizing an impartial hearing officer

Research also supports the following elements as effective components of a comprehensive program to that can help prevent discipline issues via a safe and supportive learning environment5

  • Schoolwide behavioral planning and improved classroom management
  • Social emotional learning
  • Parent and community involvement
  • Early screening for mental health issues
  • School and district-wide data systems
  • Effective and ongoing collaboration

Learn more about how you might employ these strategies by participating in NCSSLE’s Supportive School Discipline (SSD) Webinar Series and watching our website for research and resources on this topic!

American Institutes for Research

U.S. Department of Education

The contents of the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments Web site were assembled under contracts from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Supportive Schools to the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Contract Number  91990021A0020.

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