School Discipline

All school systems have discipline policies that are based on state and federal law and local school board regulations. The overall purpose of school discipline policy is to keep our children safe and healthy in a respectful environment that allows them to concentrate on learning.

Most school systems have the disciplinary rules and procedures posted on the school websites.  This code of student conduct should also be included in the student handbook that should be available at all schools.  If you can’t find it anywhere, ask at the school office.  Even “good kids” can and do run afoul of the school rules!

Most problems with school discipline policies occur because the policies are “one size fits all” and individual circumstances and situations are not taken into consideration.  Zero-tolerance rules can cause ridiculous situations (for example, first graders accused of sexual harassment), and minor infractions and youthful mistakes are often handled in a formally legal way.  Sometimes disciplinary procedures just escalate problems by backing students into a corner, and sometimes the consequences don’t make sense (for example, suspending students for truancy).

Parents used to have the opportunity to handle misbehavior within the family, but that is no longer true in most school systems.  Law enforcement personnel are usually involved with serious infractions (like assault, drugs and alcohol, and threats) and School Resource Officers are often involved with more minor infractions.  Once officers are involved, police procedures supersede educational ones.

But even though there are some problems with school discipline policy, it is still important to support it.  Children have to learn that rules apply to them, and they have to learn it early on.  Otherwise, little problems can turn into big ones very quickly.

Some children need to learn the hard way, and parents have to let it happen.  That doesn’t mean you just stand aside, but it does mean that you don’t pull strings and figure out angles to get your child off the hook.  If children don’t learn to follow rules, respect authority, and respect the needs and rights of other people by the time they are nine or ten years old, they probably never will.  If a child enters middle school with behavior problems, it is likely that they will have serious delinquent behaviors by high school.

It’s really important to know about the discipline policies in your school system because when discipline problems happen, they happen fast.  So what should you do if your child runs up against the discipline policy in a BIG way?
If it’s a major offense that could require suspension, expulsion, or referral to law enforcement, you will have to respond immediately to a request to come to school.  Before you hang up the phone, ask what the conference is about and who will be there. Quickly call a family member or friend to meet you at the school.  You need more than one pair of ears to keep things straight, and you need to stay calm and focused.

Take notes, and ask the school staff to explain anything you don’t understand.  Ask for a written copy of the discipline policy for reference during the meeting, and make sure you understand the rule your child has broken.  Make sure that your child has an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story.

Most school systems have an appeals procedure.  Get that in writing too.  Ask questions and know your options.  Appeals procedures in school systems usually involve the superintendent and even the school board.  Principals are often required to enforce the code of conduct to the letter, but the superintendent can consider mitigating factors at a central office hearing.

If you are upset or confused, ask for some time before making a decision. School decisions can be very important for your child’s future, and you need to think clearly.

Consult a lawyer if the school system is recommending expulsion or referral to law enforcement.

Protect your child’s future.  You need to make sure that your child is fairly treated, but you also need to make sure that your child learns the lesson!  School rules are generally the same rules that apply in the work place and in real life.  Success in life depends on learning and following those rules.      

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