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Report Outlines Ways Schools Can Rework Harsh Discipline Policies

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A new school discipline report, released today, adds more fuel to the growing movement to reform harsh discipline practices in the nation's schools. Labeled a consensus report, it draws  from a variety of fields to develop recommendations for reforming and improving behavior-problem management.

The "School Discipline Consensus Report," produced by the Council of State Governments, is a follow-up to the "Breaking School Rules" study released three years ago that found nearly 60 percent of secondary school students in Texas had been suspended or expelled at least once. Minority students were disproportionately affected by these policies. 

The report includes more than 60 recommendations for ways schools can overhaul their existing approaches to school discipline, drawing from interviews conducted with leaders in education, health, law enforcement, and juvenile justice, to establish a consensus of ways to reduce the number of youth suspended from school and the learning conditions in schools that best help students succeed.

"Today, we are releasing a vision that comes from the field. What's special about this report is that it's comprehensive. It looks through many lenses and also represents a consensus of leaders in the field," said Michael D. Thompson, the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, in a press call today.

The recommendations reflect four primary, interconnected goals. These include:

  • improving school climate;
  • identifying and meeting students' behavioral, health, and related needs;
  • tailoring school-police partnerships to mutual goals; and,
  • minimizing students' engagement with the juvenile justice system.

The report concludes that improving the basic learning environment of schools is the first step to improving discipline policies and outcomes, instead of only focusing on the way different types of misconduct will be handled.

It lays out an adaptive model for schools that can help make disciplinary changes at the local level to best meet school and student needs.

"It's a vision directly from the field about how to move beyond the old way of thinking and establish a variety of proven systems that can fit within any given district with its own unique set of challenges," said Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris in a press release. Norris also serves as chairman of the Council of State Governments.

The report recommends using data-driven processes  to identify and support individual students who need targeted behavioral interventions and to inform schools how to best allocate staff resources.

"We know that kids come with all sorts of needs. We need to invest in those needs," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in the same press call. "We need to have alternatives to suspension and expulsion, such as restorative justice programs."

The report encourages preventing referrals to the juvenile justice system as a way to keep students learning. This recommendation follows recent reports documenting the learning time lost when students become entangled in the  juvenile justice system.

Related to this, the report stresses the nature of school collaboration with law enforcement. Districts should decide at the local level the correct level of involvement, though police officers should not be used for classroom-management issues, the report says.

The report comes just months after the federal government's new recommended disciplinary guidelines that addressed discrimination and suspesion.  

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