Revised Student Discipline Policy to Improve Accountability, Create a Positive School Learning Environment

The Providence School Board has approved an updated Student Discipline Policy that sets expectations for how the district views discipline, focusing on creating a highly effective learning environment that supports positive school climate and behavior rather than punitive responses.

The new policy was approved by the board on December 8 and replaces the previous policy approved in 2005. It was developed by a diverse group of stakeholders who eventually formed the Code of Conduct Task Force, which comprised different work groups of students, parents, community members, administrators and law enforcement.

The committee is coordinated by Kai Cameron, facilitator for community partnerships, and Denise Carpenter, director of multiple pathways to student success. The committee is continuing to work on an accompanying updated Student Code of Conduct that is expected to be implemented in the next school year. The code of conduct will detail rights and responsibilities for students, teachers and administrators and address current issues such as suspensions, student arrests, positive school climate and culture, highly effective learning environments, consequences, alternatives to suspension like restorative practices and peer mediation, and appropriate interventions. It will be included in professional development opportunities for teachers and support staff this summer.

According to Cameron, the new discipline policy emphasizes creating a positive, safe, supportive, and nondiscriminatory school environment whereas the previous policy focused strictly on discipline. A new emphasis on data collection and analysis is designed to prevent discrimination toward students and issues of disproportionality in suspensions and arrests.

“The focus is on well-defined expectations and consequences with a heavy emphasis on interventions and practices that support peer mediation and restorative justice. The purpose is to address behaviors before they become criminal acts,” said Cameron.

“The policy is more thoughtful and supportive. It is designed to create an environment where our students can be successful,” she added.

With increased sensitivity to each student, the new policy states that each individual situation (academic, social, emotional) be carefully evaluated so that the school’s response to the student is appropriate. Interventions are recommended to proactively address the causes of student misbehavior.

The role of School Resource Officers is included as welcome members of the school community who foster positive relationships with students and help them avoid arrests.

Accountability is an important part of the new policy through ongoing data collection and analysis of student misconduct to help prevent disproportionate disciplinary practices. The superintendent will be required to establish a recordkeeping system that includes demographic information for all students involved as well as a description of the misconduct to help prevent unintended disparities and consequences.

Discipline practices will be more carefully tracked and examined. Also, the new policy requires that the superintendent establish a review committee to examine the collected data biannually and make recommendations for change that will improve student outcomes, ensure that actions are non-discriminatory and consistent with district discipline practices.

The new policy is more inclusive of potential discrimination categories of students to help ensure that their rights are protected, following federal guidelines.

Notably, the policy reflects the guiding principles set forth in the Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline developed by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice as part of the President’s Safe Schools Initiative to support schools as they develop discipline policies that address infractions before they become criminal violations.

“This policy aims to stem the tide of suspension, which is not an effective means of modifying behavior,” Cameron said.

The policy intends to help school communities refocus on clear expectations and interventions that will address the needs of the students and focus less on punitive responses to disciplinary infractions.

Developing the policy, said Cameron, has been eye-opening and invigorating. “I have witnessed in my own community environment where misbehavior in school can lead to those same behaviors in the community, which can then lead to involvement with the juvenile criminal justice system and possibly incarceration. This policy aims to modify or change those behaviors through a firm but supportive process.”