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Student Discipline in Schools: Part of the Problem or the Solution?

Studies have shown that some forms of punishment can have an adverse affect on student well-being.

More and more school districts and local officials around the country are considering revising their student disciplinary policies.

The efforts reflect a change in the approach to fostering a positive school climate that has gained support as additional research has come out on the impact on certain punishments on children.

An increasing number of organizations have begun supporting alternatives to long-used methods of student punishment like expulsion, suspension, restraint and seclusion.

Most notably, the Department of Education has begun actively promoting school environments that are safe, supportive and conductive to learning.

“Creating a supportive school climate-and decreasing suspensions and expulsions-requires close attention to the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of all students,” the department’s website states.

As part of the Rethink Discipline initiative to promote safe schools, the federal government encourages superintendents to make school discipline data and policies accessible to the public and to conduct school climate surveys with students. From there, the report  also encouraged superintendents to do the following:

  • Refine school disciplinary policies in conjunction with support services based on the student surveys. School support services can be improved by collaborating with local mental health, child welfare, law enforcement, public housing and juvenile justice agencies.
  • Improve staff de-escalation training as well as training on engaging with students in ways that support positive, productive behaviors.
  • Try pilot programs for student discipline at individual schools and evaluate their effectiveness.
  • Prioritize transparency, continuous improvement and communication with students, teachers and families.

Legal efforts have also been conducted to reform student punishment in many states. Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner, who leads the state’s education committee, recently introduced a bill that would ban suspensions and expulsions for students in the third grade or younger unless students threaten to harm themselves or their peers. The Ohio teachers union opposes that bill and prefers to punish students on a case by case basis, reports wkyc.com.

New York City Schools reported a 32 percent decrease in suspensions between 2014 and 2015 after Mayor Bill de Blasio reformed disciplinary policies and budgeted $47 million for increased mental health services, social-emotional learning training for pre-K teachers and more social workers.

Additionally, Seattle schools have placed a one-year moratorium on elementary school suspensions, and Miami-Dade Schools (Fla.) eliminated out-of-school suspensions last year.

“Creating a supportive school climate-and decreasing suspensions and expulsions-requires close attention to the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of all students.”Department of Education

A joint Dept. of Ed. and DHS Policy Statement  argued that “suspension and expulsion can contribute to a number of adverse outcomes for childhood development in areas such as personal health, interactions with the criminal justice system and education.”

Suspensions and expulsions aren’t the only types of punishment that have drawn criticism. After a report showed that schools in Kentucky restrained students 6,489 times in the 2015-2016 school year, some called for schools in the state to adopt the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support approach to student discipline, which focuses on positive reinforcements like mentoring and counseling services.

This week, the Kentucky Department of Education announced it will begin an audit of Jefferson County Public Schools after a management review revealed major problems with the district’s use and documentation of student restraints.

Kentucky defines physical restraint as reducing freedom of movement of the student’s head, arms, legs or torso.

“The issue of student safety, the issue of being frustrated about sometimes not being able to get to the bottom of some of the issues we keep hearing about…When we get into the audit [we will] have a plan for how we are going to address those issues to ensure each child has a quality educational experience,” Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Stephen Pruitt told wave3.com.

There have also been reports showing that certain punitive measures disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community.

Regardless of your stance on student discipline, it’s clear school community and staff members should constantly be evaluating their policies to improve the classroom experience for young students.

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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