Trends In Student Discipline Reform May Increase Pressure On Schools

A number of bills pending in the California Legislature reflect action by student advocates to reform approaches to student discipline that many believe lack common sense and fairness.

This push for “educational equity” and a more “thoughtful response to student misconduct” stems from studies indicating that exclusionary discipline is largely ineffective at increasing school safety or improving the behavior of disciplined students. Advocates also point to studies indicating that students of color are disproportionately referred for discipline: for example, it is reported that African American students are two times more likely than their Caucasian peers to be suspended.

The subject bills generally aim to modify existing student discipline policies and practices that are viewed as rigid or reactionary so that administrators have greater discretion in certain discipline scenarios, and to motivate educators to act proactively with a focus on prevention.

The apparent spirit motivating the bills – to make discipline a valuable tool in the educational development of students – is, of course, commendable. However, it is reasonable to conclude that these measures will result in schools assuming an even greater role in student behavioral issues as they implement positive interventions required by the legislation.

For example, many school districts could find themselves in need of expanding the number of specialized personnel to address the increased student counseling and on-campus discipline elements of the proposed legislation. The focus on prevention and, when necessary, imposing more consistent modes of discipline would likely entail significant training and professional development of those school employees on the front lines of student discipline.

While readers are encouraged to review the complete text of the proposed legislation, the following brief summaries of the relevant bills illustrate the trends developing in the area of student discipline.

Assembly Bill 2242:

This bill would provide that, if a superintendent or principal determines that a student has disrupted school activities or defied the authority of school personnel, the student cannot be placed on an extended suspension, recommendation for expulsion or expelled, but shall be subject to “other means of correction,” such as community service or in-school suspension.

Senate Bill 1235:

The intent of SB 1235 is for schools to consider alternatives to off-campus discipline to resolve student conduct, and would provide that schools whose prior year suspensions exceeded 25% of its enrollment, or as specified, must implement an “evidence-based” system to supply supports and interventions for the particular offending student, or other evidence-based strategies to address the “school climate” in order to create effective learning environments.

Assembly Bill 1729:

AB 1729 would augment the discretion given to a district superintendent or school principal to employ alternatives to suspension or expulsion that are specifically designed to address the offending student’s misconduct. The bill would also require school districts to document and place in the student’s record all efforts to impose modes of correction other than suspension or expulsion. The bill indicates that such other modes of correction include positive behavior support and tiered interventions.

Senate Bill 1088:

This bill would allow a parent or guardian to request that a school board conduct a re-evaluation of an expelled student after initially denying the student’s application for readmission. It would also prohibit a school district from denying enrollment or readmission of a student solely on the basis that the student has had contact with the juvenile justice system.

Assembly Bill 2537:

Like AB 1729, AB 2537 would expand the discretion of a district superintendent or school principal to determine whether or not alternative means of correction should be imposed under certain specified circumstances to address the misconduct instead of recommending expulsion. The bill would also provide greater latitude for school boards to determine if expulsion is appropriate for certain student conduct violations.

Categories: Student Issues

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