School Discipline Policies

Examine the various discipline methods being put to use in public schools. From detention to expulsion, spanking to handcuffing, school discipline can often be controversial. Does spanking work? Do police belong in schools? Learn more about what is being done to punish out of control students.
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According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office, widespread racial disparities exist in terms of how schoolchildren are punished. The longitudinal study looked at data from the past 15 years and found that minority students face a disproportional number of disciplinary actions in schools across the country, from those in affluent suburban neighborhoods to those in the poorest urban areas.

Graph from HechingerEd

These disparities have been known for some time in middle schools and high schools, however, this report reveals that unfair discipline procedures begin as early as preschool. The data, which was collected from 97,000 public schools from across the country, paints a troubling picture:

  • Black and Latino students are consistently punished more severely than white students for the same infractions.
  • Nearly 50 percent of preschool children who are suspended multiple times are black, yet black children represent less than one-fifth of the preschool population.
  • Black students are far more likely to be referred to law enforcement or arrested for a school-based offense than white students or other students of color.
  • Black girls are suspended at a much higher rate than girls of any other race.
  • Students with disabilities, who represent only 12 percent of the public school population, account for almost 60 percent of students who are placed in seclusion.

Zero-Tolerance Policies
 
Many students who are suspended or placed in involuntary seclusion are put there because of zero-tolerance policies that schools have put in place over the last two decades. Zero-tolerance policies began initially as a response to major infractions, such as possession of a weapon on school grounds or assault against a student or school employee. However, over the years, zero-tolerance policies have expanded to include less severe infractions, and as a result, the number of mandatory suspensions and expulsions has skyrocketed.

 
Critics of zero-tolerance policies point out that not only do these policies unduly target children of color, children who are suspended or expelled from school because of these policies face a...
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As students head back to school this fall, things may look a little different in some locations. In the aftermath of the Newtown Elementary tragedy, many districts across the country are looking for ways to beef up security procedures to keep students and staff a little safer. In light of those efforts, students may be greeted by new security devices, safety measures and even armed guards at some schools.
 
Debates Over Best Security Options
 
The Courant reports that as schools weighed their options in new security procedures, debate over the best way to protect students and faculty ensued. Armed police guards are often the center of that debate, with some school officials in favor of the action and others opposed. Other issues that have been argued in recent months include arming school administrators and security personnel and allowing teachers to bring guns to school.
 
Carl Sferrazza, police chief for Enfield, Connecticut, is one who agrees armed guards are the best way to keep students safe. Sferrazza told the Courant, “These people are homicidal and suicidal individuals. Their intent and their planning is all geared toward killing as many people as they possibly can.”
 
However, others liken placing armed guards at the entrances of schools to creating a prison-like atmosphere for students. Nate Quesnel, superintendent for East Hartford, told the Courant, “We don’t necessarily believe that having an armed guard in front of a school is the most productive way to make a school safer, for a variety of reasons. I don’t want to live in an America where we have to have an armed guard in a school that my children go to.”
 
The Funding Quandary
 
Another hurdle schools had to overcome to institute new security measures was funding. NBC News reports that some involved in the task of keeping schools safe are complaining that funding is simply not coming in at the state or federal level to pay for the security devices schools want. Although more than 450 school safety bills have been on the table since the...
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A private high school in Illinois is raising the stakes on testing. However, the testing in question is not standardized examinations or even pop quizzes in the classroom. This school is adding testing for alcohol consumption to their current tests that randomly screen students for drug use.
 
Hair Test Detects Alcohol Consumption
 
The Huffington Post reports that St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois, will unveil their random alcohol testing at the start of the new school year. The private Catholic high school has been testing students for drug use for a number of years, and now will use a similar test to check up on students’ alcohol consumption. The alcohol test is a new addition and the high school will be one of the first in the country to try out this new testing method.
 
“We’re adding this test because we care about our kids and we want them to be the best God created them to be,” St. Viator President Corey Brost was quoted as saying at the Huffington Post.
 
The new test will use hair samples, about the width of pencil lead, to reveal any alcohol use by the student. The test provides information about students who have had two to three drinks a week, over a period of the three months prior to the test. Hair samples have been used by the school in the past to test students for drug use, but this will be the first time the test is used to detect alcohol use.
 
Drug Testing Common Occurrence
 
The Chicago Tribune reports that St. Viator High School has been using hair samples to test students for drug use since 2007. All students are tested at the beginning of the year. Throughout the year, students are tested again in a random cycle selected by a computer according to student identification numbers. Students are notified in the morning about their test when they arrive at school. At lunchtime, students report to a school official, who snips about 60 strands of hair for the test.
 
Psychemedics...
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The Newtown tragedy last December brought to light the vulnerability of public schools across the country. To answer concerns about student and staff safety, many have clamored for the addition of armed guards in every school nationwide. However, research suggests that placing armed police officers in schools may create more issues even as it is addressing the need for student safety. Police presence in schools may actually increase the number of students in the criminal justice system – often for minor crimes that could have been handled at the school level.
 
Not a New Idea
 
Despite the increased rhetoric surrounding police presence in school in recent months, the idea is not new. According to the New York Times, school districts have been using federal funding and other resources to bring police officers into schools since the 1990s. Known as “school resource officers,” these armed officers typically patrol high schools and middle schools, but some have been placed in elementary schools as well. Deseret News reports that the U.S. Department of Education recently found around 28 percent of all public schools report they have an armed security guard on school grounds during class hours at least once a week.
 
Hundreds of larger school districts, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston, have actually established their own police departments. These departments, boasting thousands of sworn officers and other staff members, are under the direct oversight of district officials. The Los Angeles School Police Department, which was established in 1948, has a staff of around 340 police officers and another 140 school safety officers that work inside schools throughout the district.
 
Does it Work?
 
With many police officers already working in schools, there is data to use in determining whether armed guards are effective in producing safer schools. In fact, the Youth Justice Coalition recently compiled data in the form of a white paper that demonstrates the specific impact of armed guards on school environment. The results were published by Deseret News, and may not provide the information and answers...
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School districts across the country have recently brought disciplinary measures by schools into focus, in an effort to determine the best way to address discipline problems in schools today. While the large majority of school districts still favor methods like suspension and expulsion for a wide range of infractions, evidence continues to show these methods are not the most effective option. Should suspension and expulsion be used in public schools today? And if these methods are not appropriate, what are the alternatives? Check out ways some experts and school officials are approaching the issue of discipline in public schools.

The Cost of Discipline
 
One survey recently conducted on discipline in public schools weighed the cost of such procedures. The non-profit organization Texas Appleseed recently released its findings after surveying 11 school districts in Texas to determine how much is spent on disciplinary programs and school security. According to the Statesman, the survey found that those school districts, which make up about one-fourth of all Texas schools, spend around $227 million annually on disciplinary procedures and security. This number includes spending on expulsions, suspensions, policing and alternative schools.
 
The survey comes at a time when Texas schools are facing significant funding cuts from the state. It was also released in anticipation of a senate meeting involving how to deal with problematic students in public schools. The survey was meant to open discussion on the most effective, and most budget-friendly, ways to deal with students who present discipline challenges to schools today.
 
“We recognize that many Texas school districts are struggling as a result of the $5.4 billion cut in state funding for public education approved last year to help address a state budget shortfall,” Deborah Fowler, director of Texas Appleseed, told the Statesman. “We are releasing this report, not to point a finger at spending in the surveyed school districts, but to open a dialogue with schools about different approaches to student discipline that are more effective and less costly to implement.”
 
Based on the figures released by Texas...
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Public School Policies

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE POLICIES