Discovering beneficial ways to improve student behavior in the classroom is a problem educators have confronted for years. With guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the federal Office of Civil Rights, school districts have constructed new methods of discipline to reduce the number of minority students and children with disabilities who are suspended or expelled.
The Discipline Dilemma panel that took place at the AASA conference in New Orleans on Friday was curated by Maree Sneed, partner of Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, D.C. The discussion included superintendents whose districts have abolished zero tolerance policies and developed alternative ways to deal with student discipline and behavior.
In 2013, Maryland created new criteria for student discipline policies. At the time, Jack Smith was the chief academic officer and deputy superintendent in the Maryland State Department of Education. These were guidelines for discipline policies for consideration by local schools, intended to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions in Maryland schools.
“In 2017, if we are going to keep kids in school learning, then we have to have strategies and philosophies that constantly pull them back to us, instead of excluding them from the school,” Smith told conference attendees. “If you have any autonomy as a 15, 16, 17-year-old, you do not want to come back after 10 days.”
Now, in Maryland, a short-term suspension is three days, a long-term suspension is up to 10 days, an extended suspension is up to 45 days and an expulsion is more than 45 days. “That is a big shift for a lot of principals in the world,” said Smith, now superintendent in Montgomery County, Md..”Suspensions and expulsions are the last result for students in Maryland.”
Barbara Cooper, deputy superintendent of Huntsville City Schools in Huntsville, Ala., introduced her district’s discipline practice, the Behavior Learning Guide. The guide contains four levels of responses for teachers to use in addressing bad behaviors, Cooper said.
The first level of response includes a verbal warning. However, if the behavior is intolerable to the teacher, schools have the option to use higher response levels, which could involvethe administration.
Cooper said the Behavior Learning Guide, created by teachers and administration, is constantly evolving. “There are hyperlinks to different ways to handle behaviors,” she said. “The document is updated throughout the year.”
Teachers also have the ability to log student’s behaviors in their phones.
“The Discipline Reporting app is where the teachers can actually put that behavior in, have access to the guide and indicate any concerns they were having with student’s discipline,” she said. “That is something that our central office director of behavior learning is able to monitor and give support to the administrator ongoing.”
The Madison, Wis., Metropolitan School District reconstructed its discipline policy through a program called the Behavior Education Plan, with a restorative approach.
“Restorative means it is not what you do, it is how you do it,” Jennifer Cheatham, Madison’s superintendent, said. “When a teacher needs help and needs someone to intervene,” she said, “how is that done in a restorative lens to reengage the student, repair the harm and prepare the teacher to fully accept that child back in the classroom?”
Cheatham contended the new approach to behavior has led to a 33 percent decrease in the use of out-of-school suspension between 2013 and 2016.
However, some schools in the district continue to issue more out-of-school suspensions to minority students than white students.
“We are beginning to see examples of schools where disproportionality is changing dramatically. We are doing case studies on schools,” Cheatham said. “We need to understand what is happening in this schools, so that we can expand that practice district wise.”
(By Prinsey Walker, a sophomore at Xavier University in New Orleans)