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School Discipline

School discipline has always been a topic of debate. This article discusses how school discipline works, including the use of detention, suspension, and expulsion, as well as other considerations.

The purpose of school discipline to ensure that the school is a safe environment and to make learning possible. The issues range from very mild situations when a student needs to be reminded to work more quietly in order not to disturb others to problems on a larger scale, involving criminal action on school property and necessitating the participation of law enforcement. Here is an overview of school discipline.

How School Discipline Works in Principle

School is different from other environments, so it requires different behaviors. Certainly there are rules that students practice other places (turn taking, standing in line), but no other place has the same requirements, and therefore the same rules, as schools. For this reason, it is important that the rules of a school be made explicit to students.

School rules can be communicated by letters sent home, by school bulletins, newsletters, handbooks, and other publications, by conversations, school assemblies, and by posters. Many schools use a combination of methods to convey the school rules.

Just as in other settings, some school rules are more important than others. The rule that students must leave the building quickly and quietly without gathering belongings if they hear the fire bell is more important than the rule to put the chalk back on the chalk tray when you’re done with it.

While it’s important for students to follow all the rules to have a good and safe environment, it’s also true that some infractions only merit a gentle reminder, and others are far more crucial to people’s well-being. The school discipline rules should recognize the different types of rule-breaking and treat them accordingly.

Mildly disruptive behavior - whether speaking out of turn or pushing a bit in line - are the types of behavior that happen fairly often in classrooms and are usually dealt with in the classroom. More serious infractions can involve the student being sent (or removed) from the classroom and dealt with by whomever at the school handles discipline (often, an assistant principal). Once the student’s behavior has reached a point that it’s beyond classroom management, some discipline possibilities include: a conference with parents, the use of a time-out room (although the use of such school disciplinary measures is being called into question), detention, suspension, and expulsion.

School Discipline with Detention

Detention means that the student is detained in the school building, and not allowed to go home when classes have finished or must come in for extra time on, for example, a Saturday. Detention usually has a set period of time, though the time varies with the school, and students may be assigned to one or more days of detention.

Detention periods are supervised, and school rules for what a student may and may not do during detention differ. If the student does not abide by the school’s detention rules, more detentions may be added.

School Discipline with Suspension

Usually, suspension is a program in which the student’s normal schedule is suspended and the student must spend time in a supervised area, separate from his or her classmates, in school or is suspended outside of school. Because a student suspended outside of school can feel like s/he is on vacation, some schools prefer supervised in-school suspension, during which a student has to complete work.

School Discipline with Expulsion

Expulsion is a disciplinary action that removes the student from the school permanently. This punishment is for very serious infractions of school rules and/or criminal behavior, and the process is governed by state law and involves a mandatory hearing. Rules for expulsion differ, but some reasons for expulsion include assaulting a school employee, carrying a dangerous weapon, being in possession of illegal drugs or controlled medications without a doctor’s prescription, or being convicted of a felony.

Special School Discipline Considerations

Students with special needs may have special considerations for when it comes to school discipline. For example, there was an incident that received news attention several years ago when a student who had a “no touch” order (that is, the student was not, under any circumstances, to receive physical contact) was touched in a disciplinary action. In disciplining a student with a disability the role, if any, of the disability in the behavior that led to the discipline issue must be considered.


ERIC Digest: School Discipline by Joan Gaustad -

USA Today “Some experts call school time-out rooms ‘abuse’” by Michael Crumb -