Under school law, specifically Education Code Section 35291, “School districts must prescribe rules for student discipline,” and this is constitutionally necessary to uphold due process (under the Fourteenth Amendment) (p.340-342). These rules are worded such that consequences for violations include in-school discipline policies (detentions, participation points, etc.), suspensions, involuntary transfers and/or expulsions (p. 345-361). If there is no established policy, then what standards to students have for correct versus incorrect behavior? And with students who have Individual Education Plans (IEPs), particularly those with behavior issues, they are afforded the right to a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) within the language of the IEP. More importantly, every student is afforded the right to learn in a safe, civil environment, so order is necessary, and that’s the sole intent of implementing school law and governance policies.
True educators agree that it is sad to learn about students who enter into self-destruct mode and choose to defy the policies set before them, both inside and outside the school setting. Such students are not only losing out on opportunities for becoming life-long learners and developing critical thinking skills, but are also setting a negative precedence for their own future lineage, as well as other peer influences.
The best type of intervention is preventative action. As Plato says, ““Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” I’m a firm believer in treating students with dignity and respect, first and foremost. This enables me to establish a learning environment that is safe, and I practice being firm with my expectations (which I establish the first few weeks of school), fairness, consistency. I call it the “Treat everyone as though your grandmother were watching” idea, in which the Golden Rule becomes more personable by having students truly understand the power of respect. Students take part in establishing these group norms, and that is also instrumental in creating buy-in to my classroom rules and procedures.
In the event that students choose not to abide by my own classroom rules, then intervention needs to move up to school-wide policies (which reflects district code). As an example, the Avalon K-12 school website outlines a code of conduct and discipline plan for parents and students to understand (http://goo.gl/lJ9wL3), and this is to be read and signed by students and parents in the opening days of school. Our K-12 staff hold meetings to discuss a tier system of infractions and the appropriate action plan for such events.
Although Long Beach Unified actually employs school personnel to work specifically with interventions with students who are regular offenders of school policies (https://goo.gl/KaF4Jv), Avalon has a unique situation. In considering the consequences outlined in California Education Code for discipline, our school has enlisted several community partnerships specifically for interventions. These partners include the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, Catalina’s own Citizens Helping Our Island Children End Substance Abuse (CHOICES) program, Peer Mediation, Outward Bound, Opportunities for Success, and a host of island-based counseling centers. We simply cannot resort to involuntary transfers within our district, as we are literally isolated in the Pacific Ocean and that would create family hardships. Expulsion is also something we have never had to resort to, since I have joined the staff in 2008.
When schools conduct interventions with students, what are the intentions? To “intervene” is really to help get students back on the path toward success, right? When considering that California Ed Code is often rigid and strict, this idea can be used as a motivating factor for students during intervention meetings with staff, students and parents. As a result, Avalon K-12 has implemented quarterly intervention nights, where all staff and students who have issues with discipline or academic needs meet in the school library for a 3-4 hour block of time to truly brainstorm solutions with the students and families. We want the best for our students, so we need to make them aware of the consequences for their actions with timely meetings and follow-through on a consistent basis.
One particular example with Avalon that still resonates in my mind is an incident involving an entire sports team. Not only did the incident extend to California Ed Code Section 44807, which “extends the discipline authority of school personnel to student conduct on the way to and from school,” but it also ventured into the California Scholastic Federation (CIF) governance (http://goo.gl/G0fvfn) and the student athletic packet’s code of ethics that were agreed upon (p. 359). The team decided to host a party on the morning of the first day of school at one of the popular attractions on the island. Because our town is only one square mile, word spread fast, and sheriffs were on scene, along with the school administration. This was huge. Parents were involved, the town mayor was concerned, and students were brought to tears. Decisions were made to enforce disciplinary measures that subjected students to counseling, community service, and suspension from their sports team. This also went onto their disciplinary file in the school’s tracking system. While some of these offenses might have implemented Ed Code more severely in a mainland school setting, Avalon has to be mindful of the repercussions of such actions. The culture of this island community plays a major factor in the intervention process of the island students.
The ultimate disciplinary infraction in schools is expulsion, and it is complex in nature, especially in Avalon. California Ed Code Section 48915 recommends the procedure for expulsion, but such events seem to be very uncommon, even in the large school district of Long Beach Unified (p. 361). But in Avalon, to which school would a student be expelled? In Avalon, involuntary transfers and expulsions are nearly impossible and we are left to work with parents and the aforementioned community partners to work out intervention plans for rogue students. When “the presence of such students endangers the physical safety of others,” inhibiting learning from taking place, our administrators have done a great job working with the local law enforcement and other counselors to seek authentic help (p. 368). Avalon students are often not expelled, but our district works closely with our unique situation and is willing to freezes student grades for student “leaves of absence” in these types of cases. I can’t stress enough how important it has been to keep in mind the well-being of all students, even these who have gone astray.
As we have read, there is a lot of Ed Code that dictates the rules and discipline policies that are to be enforced in public schools. While these rules are important, it is much more important that teachers, who are on the front lines of much of the student interaction, are fair, firm and consistent with their own class policies and exemplify true teaching that leads students to choose paths of success and not destruction. When students are treated with respect and dignity, they will rise to great expectations.
Kemerer, F & Sansom, P. (2013). California School Law (3rd ed.). Stanford University Press.