Educational Discipline

Educational Discipline in the United States

The growing debate over school discipline has led many educators and policymakers to question the value of punishments involving suspensions and the existence of zero-tolerance policies.

According to data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), the number of students losing critical learning time due to out of school suspensions and expulsions is staggering. Over 3 million students are suspended or expelled every year.

Administration’s Rethink Discipline efforts

Rethink Discipline was launched as part of President Barack Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper initiative and aims to support all students and promote a welcome and safe climate in schools.

As noted in a joint Department of Education and Department Health and Human Services Policy Statement, suspension and expulsion can contribute to a number of adverse outcomes for childhood development in areas such as personal health, interactions with the criminal justice system, and education.

The 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection reveals that out-of-school suspensions decreased by nearly 20 percent compared to the 2011-12 school year. However, 2.8 million students received out-of-school suspensions in the 2013-14 school year, representing approximately 6% of all students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

The application of exclusionary discipline practices is especially significant for students of color and students with disabilities, who, in general, are disciplined more often than their classmates. As stated in the Department of Education’s First Look brief about 2013-14 CRDC data, in preschool, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white children. In K-12, black students are 3.8 times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions compared to white students. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities.

Announcements made as part of this comprehensive effort include:

  • Supportive School Discipline Initiative: In 2011, the Departments of Education and Justice announced the launch of a collaborative project to support the use of school discipline practices that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments while keeping students in school. A cornerstone of this Initiative is the School Discipline Consensus Project, managed by the Council of State Governments and supported by various philanthropic organizations. The Consensus Project brought together practitioners from various fields to develop consensus recommendations to dismantle the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
  • Joint Federal Policy and Legal Guidance: Education and Justice jointly released a School Climate and Discipline Guidance Package in 2014 to provide schools with a roadmap to reduce the usage of exclusionary discipline practices and clarify schools’ civil rights obligation to not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the administration of school discipline.
  • #RethinkDiscipline Convening and Public Awareness Campaign: The Departments of Education and Justice launched Rethink Discipline at the White House in July of 2015, convening school district teams, including superintendents, some law enforcement practitioners, and justice officials from across the country and sparking a national dialogue around punitive school discipline policies and practices that exclude students from classroom instruction and targeted supports.
  • Rethink School Discipline – Resource Guide for Superintendent Action: As a part of Rethink Discipline, the Department of Education developed a resource guide with a set of potential action items to help school leaders implement safe, supportive school climate and discipline by engaging stakeholders, assessing the results and history of existing school climate and discipline systems and practices; implementing reform; and monitoring progress.
  • Support for State and Local Educational Leaders and Partners from Other Systems: In 2015, the Department of Justice launched the National Resource Center for School Justice Partnerships (see below for more information) to advance school discipline reform efforts and serve as a dynamic resource hub for schools, law enforcement agencies, and others to support school discipline reform efforts at the local level.
  • Fostering Safe and Supportive Learning Environments: In 2016, the Department of Education released the ED School Climate Surveys and the Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements to help foster and sustain safe and more nurturing environments that are conducive to learning for all students.
  • Addressing Implicit Bias and Discipline Disparities in Early Childhood Settings: In 2016, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services announced a new investment of $1 million in the Pyramid Equity Project to establish national models for addressing issues of implicit bias, and uneven implementation of discipline, including expulsions and suspensions, in early learning programs.
  • Providing Guidance to Schools on Ensuring Equity and Providing Behavioral Supports to Students with Disabilities: In 2016, the Department of Education announced the release of a significant guidance document in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter, which emphasized the requirement that schools provide positive behavioral supports to students with disabilities who need them. It also clarified that the repeated use of disciplinary actions may suggest that many children with disabilities may not be receiving appropriate behavioral interventions and supports. Also included was a Summary for Stakeholders.
  • Transforming School Climate: In the 2016 Investing in Innovation Program, the Department supports innovative approaches to creating a supporting school climate. This priority builds on the #RethinkDiscipline campaign to increase awareness about the detrimental impacts of exclusionary discipline, the Department’s investment in School Climate Transformation Grants to help states and districts strengthen behavioral supports for students, and a school discipline guidance package to clarify schools’ obligation not to discriminate on the basis of race in discipline.
  • Best Practices and Procedures for School Resource Officers or SROs (see here)
  • Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools (see here for information).


Every day, youth across the country enter or are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system because of behaviors that are problematic but noncriminal in nature. The most common of these behaviors—known as status offenses—is truancy. While missing or skipping school
occasionally may not have a significant impact on students, parents and school systems often struggle to find effective ways to respond to chronic truancy—which is often both a symptom of and risk factor for more serious problems in the lives of young people.

Truancy is generally considered any unexcused or unverified absence from school. Because states enact their own school attendance laws, the legal definition of truancy may vary from state to state.

Law Enforcement & School Resource Officers (SRO)

In September of 2016, U.S. Departments of Education and U.S. Justice released new tools to assist states, districts and schools in the implementation of best practices for the appropriate use of School Resource Officers or SROs. The release is the result of collaborative work between both Departments to define the best use of law enforcement officers when utilized within a school environment. The Departments also jointly released the Safe, School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics. These resources are designed to help education and law enforcement agencies that use SROs to review and, if necessary, revise SRO-related policies in alignment with common-sense action steps that can lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights.

Juvenile Justice Practitioners

Judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and probation have very important roles in school-justice partnerships. Juvenile court judges should utilize judicial leadership and engage in system collaboration with schools, law enforcement, mental health providers and community organizations to reduce referrals to the juvenile justice system for school-based misbehaviors. Prosecutors, public defenders and juvenile probation play an important role in the school-justice partnership by screening and diverting referrals from schools for non-serious offenses from entering the justice system. Juvenile justice stakeholders should contribute to policy development for appropriate school-based referrals and procedures to the juvenile court.

Juvenile Justice Systems

The most disadvantaged, troubled students in the United States attend schools in the juvenile justice systems. These children, mostly teenagers, usually are behind in school, possess substantial
learning disabilities, exhibit recognizable behavioral problems, and are coping with serious emotional or psychological problems. They are often further behind and hampered with more personal problems than any other identifiable group of students in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools. Very often they are confined in large, overly restrictive institutional facilities that are operated without priority or
focus on their education.

National Resource Center for School Justice Partnerships

In October 2014, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) was awarded funding by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to support the School-Justice Partnership Project. The purpose of this project is to enhance collaboration and coordination among schools, mental and behavioral health specialists, law enforcement and juvenile justice officials to help students succeed in school and prevent negative outcomes for youth and communities.

OJJDP is partnering with the Department of Education and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to implement a multidisciplinary initiative to improve school climates, respond early and appropriately to student mental health and behavioral needs, avoid referring students to law enforcement and juvenile justice as a disciplinary response, and facilitate a proactive and supportive school reentry process in the rare instances in which a youth is referred. The larger goal of the project is to enhance collaboration and coordination among schools, mental and behavioral health specialists, law enforcement and juvenile justice officials at the local level to ensure adults have the support, training, and a shared framework to help students succeed in school and prevent negative outcomes for youth and communities.

OJJDP selected NCJFCJ to support implementation and sustainability of the multidisciplinary initiatives that can be expected to achieve positive school discipline reforms and significantly reduce the number of student suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to court for non-serious behaviors in those project sites selected to receive Education, SAMHSA and Justice funds. NCJFCJ will develop tools, training materials, and other resources, including information to educate key stakeholders on collateral consequences and issues related to expungement for jurisdictions throughout the nation. NCJFCJ will directly support a limited number of sites identified as needing assistance in implementing school discipline approaches, such as those school communities that DOJ staff identify as needing training and technical assistance.

Educational Discipline: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Educational Discipline. This part provides references, in relation to Educational Discipline, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Educational Discipline by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Educational Discipline and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Educational Discipline or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Educational Discipline and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Educational Discipline. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Educational Discipline should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Educational Discipline when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

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