In this article, School Administration & Social Work Expert, Dr. Suzanne Rodriguez, discusses school discipline policies and procedures as they relate to the prevention of subsequent violence, abuse, or bullying. The adequacy of disciplinary actions is frequently disputed in school-based assault cases where the aggressor displayed a history of violence or aggression. Our school administration experts have experience evaluating these cases on behalf of both plaintiff and defense counsel.
The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a national study of U.S public schools and found nearly one million violent incidents including rape, sexual assaults, robbery, and physical attacks during the 2017-2018 school year. This data considers incidents occurring at school, including activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.
The threat of violence within school settings and related events is well established and must be properly addressed in all communities. These incidents can result in serious injuries or property damage, and when student-to-student violence happens, it warrants a timely school discipline response that includes intervention measures that support student safety and minimize the potential for future violence.
Student Discipline: What Is an Appropriate Consequence?
In many investigations, our expert is tasked with determining if the school’s response following an earlier incident was appropriate and timely. To arrive at this opinion, it is important to understand how disciplinary consequences are managed within an educational setting.
When students are involved in violent incidents, schools and districts rely on credentialed administrators to respond and issue student discipline consequences in accordance with state education code and school district discipline policies, procedures, and guidelines. The discipline consequences for violent offenses may include:
Out-of-School Suspension: Temporary removal from the school campus for days, i.e., 1-5 days
Expulsion: Full removal from the school campus for a set , i.e., 1-2 semesters
Other Means of Correction: Mediation or restorative discipline
Disciplinary consequences are typically outlined in school or district policies that guide administrators in their disciplinary response and decision-making. are often dependent upon the nature of the offense and the injury or damage caused. They are typically “progressive,” meaning that consideration is given to the number of times the student has committed the offense and/or the student’s recent disciplinary history.
Administrators can also utilize and provide both victim and perpetrator with school resources and behavioral support to prevent future incidents from occurring. The appropriate use and effectiveness of alternate means of correction, such as restorative discipline, will often be assessed during a forensic analysis.
Disciplinary policies and procedures should encourage students to learn from their mistakes, improve their behavior, and promote a safe campus climate. The failure to intervene with a timely and appropriate disciplinary response, and/or provide behavioral support, however, can result in an escalation of violence thereby creating a dangerous environment.
The Standard of Care for School Discipline and Intervention
The standard of care for discipline within the educational setting is well established. The U.S. Department of Education asserts:
A critical component of a strong and positive school climate is a school-wide discipline policy that sets high expectations for behavior; provides clear, developmentally appropriate, and proportional consequences for misbehavior; and uses disciplinary incidents to help students learn from their mistakes, improve their behavior, and meet high expectations.
The following behavior prevention and intervention practices are typically included in school district policies and can vary by state. They are intended to promote and maintain a safe school culture, help students learn from past behaviors, learn new skills, and prevent old behaviors from re-occurring:
- Tiered Interventions (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports)
- School-Wide Violence Prevention and/or Social Emotional Learning Education
- Behavior or Social Skills Education Groups ( Anger Management)
- Individual Mental Health Assessment and/or Counseling
- Restorative Discipline (Victim and Offender Reconciliation/Mediation)
- Student-Centered Multi-Disciplinary Team Meetings
- Behavior Contracts that include referral for counseling and/or education services
- Student Safety Plans
The appropriate and consistent application of established interventions is the standard of care for discipline within the U.S. educational system and provides a reasonable balance of safety and learning opportunities for all students.
A forensic analysis of your case, based on the policies, procedures, and inter-personal history of parties can provide a fair and reliable assessment of the adequacy and appropriateness of a disciplinary response or disciplinary responses.
Dr. Suzanne Rodriguez, Robson Forensic, is an expert in school administration and social work with nearly 30 years of professional experience. She applies her expertise to forensic casework involving instances of injury, abuse, and negligence that occur with educational and social service facilities/organizations.