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Research-Based Prevention and Intervention Strategies

Steps to ensure the code is rigorously and fairly enforced

Teach the Code
One of the most potent tools that schools have at their disposal is the power of good teaching. We accept this idea when it comes to academics, but do not apply it to student behavior. Schools need to devote significant time to ensuring that students know more than the provisions of the discipline code; they must understand how it is intended to be implemented in the school. At the beginning of the year this instruction should include direct teaching of the code and its application to various activities and locations in the school. Such direct teaching should include lots of examples and opportunities for students to role play and practice desired behaviors. "Booster sessions" before anticipated stressful times such as holidays and special school activities can also effectively reduce the number of code violations.

Enforce the Discipline Code
Even the best code that is well taught to students will quickly become irrelevant if students observe that it is not uniformly enforced. Unfortunately, many schools and districts fall down on this essential element, and the code becomes a useless document rather than a tool to improve school climate. Effective enforcement of a code requires:

  • Support of the school board;
  • Consistent application everywhere and to everyone in the school system;
  • Authorization and encouragement for all employees to enforce the code;
  • Resources committed to enforcement; and
  • Oversight committees.

Support of the school board
The school board should formally adopt the district policy or approve individual school policies. New board members should be given training in the code's provisions and regular opportunities to ask questions about implementation of the code. Assuring that the board supports the code will reduce the instances when board members waiver in enforcement when difficult cases arise. School board members who waffle when tough discipline decisions come to the board for final action also erode enforcement. Without firm support from the top district leadership, the message to students will be much less effective.

Consistent application everywhere and to everyone in the school system
From the classroom to the central office and from the playground to the school bus, enforcement of the code must be uniform. Therefore, a districtwide policy is generally more effective than asking each individual school to pass its own policy. Supplements or amplifications of the code at specific sites can address unique circumstances at particular schools.

More difficult than applying the code everywhere in the district is applying the code equally to everyone in the district. Federal laws mandate some restrictions on sanctions that can apply to disabled students. It is vital, both to prevent lawsuits based on disparity of treatment and to deal effectively with special education students, that, to the extent possible, disabled students be treated the same as all other students. School officials should not shy away from applying the code as fully as possible to disabled students. Because of the complexities involved in applying discipline procedures to special education students, schools should provide a separate document detailing the process to be used with them.

Authorize and encourage all employees to enforce the code
Effective discipline begins on the school bus and in the hallways. Bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and school secretaries are just as essential as teachers and classroom paraprofessionals in establishing a schoolwide environment conducive to learning. All employees should receive training and support in the enforcement of the code. School officials must make it clear to students that all school employees have the authority and support of the administration in fair and consistent application of the code.

Many teacher contracts recognize the need for administrators to support teachers in enforcing the code through language such as:

The District recognizes its responsibility to give all reasonable support and assistance to teachers with respect to the maintenance of control and discipline in the classroom.

-San Francisco Teacher Contract (California)

Recognizing also that the teacher's authority in his/her classroom is undermined when pupils discover that he/she has little or no administrative backing in discipline, teachers shall receive the full support of the principal and central administration of actions taken by them pertaining to discipline, provided they act in accordance with [state and local policy].

-United Teachers of New Orleans Contract (Louisiana)

Despite the presence of such language, many teachers are given the subtle but firm message from administrators that employees should handle discipline problems alone. The teacher who frequently contacts administrators for assistance in discipline enforcement may find administrative support eroding. These types of attitudes must be changed if a discipline code is to be effective.

A review of contracts for school support staff indicates a lack of language supporting or encouraging these employees to enforce discipline codes. Because the active support of school secretaries, custodians, bus drivers and paraprofessionals is necessary for effective enforcement of a discipline policy, negotiating such contractual protections for them is vital.

Provide resources to promote rigorous enforcement of the code
Training for school staff and administrators may be necessary. During the early stages of implementation, when students will be testing the resolve of the school, additional building-level administrators or other staff supports may be necessary. To conserve resources, districts with severe behavioral problems may want to phase in the implementation over a period of time. This process will allow them to apply additional resources to individual schools that are undergoing the initial implementation phase, and then move these resources to other locations that would begin the implementation phase later.

Authorize oversight committees to ensure that the code is rigorously enforced
As a result of internal and external pressures that fall upon school administrators, they may find few incentives to support rigorous enforcement of the discipline code. This pressure frequently comes from the parents protecting their children from being disciplined and central office administrators and board members who feel that high numbers of suspensions, expulsions or other disciplinary actions reflect poorly on schools. One effective means of counterbalancing this force is to organize parent groups that wish to see a sound discipline environment in the schools.