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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Get Ready for Safe Schools Week

Yael Kidron

Yael Kidron is the director of Character Education at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.

Schools around the nation will discuss school safety issues during Safe Schools Week, October 21-27, 2018. The purpose of this annual campaign is to engage educators, parents, nonprofits, businesses, and government officials in discussions about the promotion of the physical and psychological safety of every student on school campuses.

This campaign also aims to increase school attendance. Unfortunately, to promote school safety, too many schools take away school time from students for minor behavior problems. Recent research by Daniel J. Losen, the director of the UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights, shows that during the 2015-16 academic year, elementary and secondary school students have collectively lost more than 11 million days of instruction because of out-of-school suspensions. In most states, African American, Latino, and Native American students lost more school days than white students. In every state, students with disabilities lost more school days than other students. Many of the suspensions were for insubordination or disruptive behavior.

Multiple factors may contribute to this trend, including insufficient guidance to staff, local school policies, unchecked staff biases, and school resources. For example, some schools do not have the staff hours and training resources required to implement alternative discipline methods. As a result, these schools assign more and longer out-of-school suspensions in response to minor infractions than other schools. Alternative discipline methods may seem more time-consuming and expensive, but in the long run, they pay off. Positive discipline practices aim to promote character development and a safe school climate and include facilitated discussions as well as service projects or other practices that restore teacher-student and student-student trust and positive interactions.

Zero tolerance policies, which too often impose inflexible punishments like suspensions for minor infractions, hurt students’ sense of dignity and their feelings of belonging to the school community. They also directly interfere with students’ academic learning. Already, many educators and policymakers note that the six-hour school day and a 180-day school year are not enough for improving the academic performance of students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not receive other enrichment beyond the regular school day. However, their efforts to give students more time for learning are hampered by schools’ discipline practices. Excluding students from the school environment and involving the police are some of the disciplinary actions that cause the well-documented “school-to-prison pipeline” which leads students to drop out and eventually to become enmeshed in the justice system. 

What Can Schools Do?

  • Learn about the legal obligations of schools. District and school administrators should remind their staffs about students’ rights. In his recent book, The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, The Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind, Justin Driver reminds us that since Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975), students should be allowed a hearing at school prior to receiving an out-of-school suspension, unless they pose a continuing danger to the school. Education professionals and parents who want to learn about students’ rights are invited to attend a free presentation by Justin Driver at Santa Clara University on October 17, 2018. Register here for the event.
  • Use restorative justice practices. Train teachers, counselors, and students to participate in conferences, discussion circles, and learning projects as alternatives to suspensions. These practices focus on the causes of conflicts rather than on punishment. They are intended to treat all students with respect and model empathy and compassion.
Sep 27, 2018

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