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June 11, 2014 Practice Points

Comprehensive School Discipline Consensus Report

By Jessalyn Schwartz

On June 3, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released a report, three years in the making, regarding school disciplinary policies nationwide. The bipartisan effort included over 700 interviews with advisors and consultants ranging from school administrators, teachers, lawmakers, students, parents, and advocates to other stakeholders. The report expanded on the January 2014 federal guidance by the Departments of Education and Justice, which discussed how to impose discipline in academic settings without discrimination on race, color, or national origin.

The general theme of the report is that schools need lower suspension rates, and get more engagement from students. Millions of students, mainly nonwhite, disabled, and LGBT youth, are suspended for minor misconduct and often end up facing lapses in academics, dropping out, or becoming involved with the juvenile-justice system.

The report's overall goals include identifying behavioral and mental health issues of students through support teams and services; improving school climate by fostering a positive learning environment where students feel safe, welcome, and supported; adapting school-police partnerships to reach mutual ends; and minimizing student engagement with the juvenile-justice system. To reach these goals, the report puts forth 60 recommendations, such as using a "graduated system of responses," or other steps such as peer conferences and restorative practices prior to suspension, leaving removal from school as a last result. The report recommends multidisciplinary approaches and practicality to ensure the efficacy of plans to change the school environment. The report is meant to be a guide for all involved in the nation's education system and an impetus for change to be made on a federal, state, and local level.

Jessalyn Schwartz is a member of the ABA Children and the Law Advisory Task Force in Boston, Massachusetts.

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