Effective Discipline Codes
Encourage parent, community and staff support through a range of measures, beginning with their involvement in the creation of the code.
Staff, parent and community representatives and students should serve on the committee developing the code. Before adoption, the code should be shared as broadly as possible; any input received must be seriously considered.
Parents and other groups and individuals who participated in building the code should receive periodic reports on implementation of the code. These reports should detail the number and severity of violations reported and how they were handled. Initial reports may show an alarming number of incidents that previously went unaddressed. Effective implementation of the code will show these numbers dropping over time. Encouraging honesty in reporting is the first step in getting the situation under control and establishing credibility with the public. Some administrators who are accustomed to putting the best public face on their schools may resist this level of reporting. In situations where the school district is not willing to develop such a reporting system, local school employee unions can provide a much-needed service through adoption of such systems.
The code itself should specify methods to keep parents involved with the discipline of their children. It is often wise to require parental notification of even the most minor infraction. Initially, such extensive notification of parents may be time consuming. Harnessing the efforts of concerned parents, however, will ultimately minimize the need for additional referrals. Simplistic solutions to parental involvement, such as sending notes home to parents, are unlikely to have an impact on the child's behavior. The district must ensure that necessary supports are in place to promote quality contacts. Phones in classrooms allow teachers to call parents; additional school staff are also able to make parental contacts when necessary to engage parents fully in the discipline of their children.
Use clear, concise language with specific examples of all behaviors that will result in disciplinary action and the specific consequences that will be administered for infractions of the rules.
Clear, concise language is essential if the public is to understand and support a discipline code. Brief, clear codes also enable teachers and other school staff who are responsible for enforcement to act swiftly and with authority without having to refer to lengthy legalistic documents. Some discipline codes are up to 100 pages long, making them unapproachable and too cumbersome to enforce. If school district attorneys believe that a code needs to be lengthy and packed with "legalese," an accompanying document for dissemination to students and their parents must summarize the code in understandable language.
Codes can also err through lack of specificity, leaving more questions unanswered than resolved. These vague policies may refer to the responsibilities of students in such general terms that school employees must constantly interpret the vague generalities. Such codes frequently do not refer to any specific consequences.
To provide the needed specificity, a good code must list specific prohibited activities and the consequences that will be administered for each infraction.
Include consequences for even minor misbehaviors and require more severe sanctions for repeated minor offenses.
Research shows that rude and disruptive behavior, when allowed to continue unchecked, leads to more serious-and sometimes violent-incidents. In far too many districts, rudeness toward school staff and among students has become so prevalent that many school staffs believe the situation is irreversible. For this reason, some districts have emphasized zero tolerance for the most severe violations but have not addressed the many minor disruptions that occur. In many schools, few consequences exist for kids who are only disorderly. To recapture an orderly environment in the schools, districts must confront the entire spectrum of misbehaviors with consequences that are suitable to the infraction as well as the age of the student.
Some codes do address minor infractions but do not require more severe sanctions for students who are repeat minor offenders. Such codes lead to situations in which a student who has only one minor violation receives the same consequence as a student who repeatedly commits the same offense. This type of system violates most people's sense of fairness and is an ineffective way to curtail minor misbehavior.
Categorize offenses from minor to the most severe, with a series of consequences matching the severity of the offenses.
Codes that are organized by offense severity are easy to comprehend and administer. They make it easy, at a glance, to see the range of consequences that may extend from loss of privileges to expulsion and the types of misbehaviors that warrant these consequences. When "the punishment fits the crime," educators are more likely to ensure that the code is rigorously enforced. Also, students will accept the code as fair if they believe that the sanctions are appropriate.
Guarantee prompt removal of dangerous and chronically disruptive students from the educational environment and provide appropriate alternative placements for these students.
School employees must have the authority to remove from the classroom those students who threaten the safety or interfere with the education of other students. This type of authority is often guaranteed through the union contract rather than the discipline code.
Students should not be returned to the class until the teacher is assured that appropriate measures as specified in the discipline code have been carried out. Language that requires this communication with the teacher does not just provide much-needed assurance and support but also a much-needed lever to ensure that busy administrators take the time necessary to enforce the discipline code.
For those students removed from the traditional education setting, quality alternative placement programs (see recommendation #4) must be provided.