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Student Discipline

Student Discipline

Students in Pennsylvania have specific rights when it comes to school discipline. They are entitled to due process protections under both the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania law. This includes the right to be informed of the charges against them, the right to an explanation of the evidence, and the right to present their side of the story. For more severe disciplinary actions, such as expulsion from school, students are entitled to a formal hearing. Schools must notify parents or guardians and provide an opportunity for them to participate in these hearings. Additionally, Pennsylvania law requires that schools implement positive behavior support plans and interventions before resorting to exclusionary discipline measures such as suspension or expulsion for students with disabilities.

Key bullet points:

  • Pennsylvania Public School Code: Governs student discipline and requires school districts to develop their own codes of conduct in line with state regulations.

  • Due Process Rights: Students have the right to be informed of charges, to understand the evidence, and to present their defense.

  • Formal Hearings: Required for expulsions (i.e., exclusions from school beyond 10 days), with parental notification and participation.

  • Positive Behavior Support: Schools are required to use interventions and supports before exclusionary discipline of students with disabilities.

  • Parental Involvement: Parents or guardians must be informed and involved in disciplinary processes.

  • Individualized Education Programs (IEPs): For students with disabilities, disciplinary actions must consider the student’s IEP and any behavioral interventions in place.

  • Non-Discrimination: Discipline policies must comply with laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, disability, and religion.

Student Discipline In Schools Today

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Student discipline remains a necessary aspect of maintaining a productive and safe educational environment. Effective discipline ensures that schools can fulfill their primary mission of education, fostering a setting where students can learn without disruption. However, the complexities surrounding student discipline have increased, particularly with the evolving legal rights of students and the varying approaches needed to meet diverse student needs.

Examples of Student Discipline

Disciplinary actions in schools can range from minor interventions to more severe consequences. Common examples include:

  1. Detention: Often used for minor infractions such as tardiness or minor classroom disruptions, detention requires students to spend additional time at school, usually after classes or on the weekend. Detention may also be held during a school-wide recreation time such as recess. 

  2. In-School Suspension: This form of discipline is when a student is removed from class and assigned to a designated learning space in the school with staff supervision.  The student continues working on education and attends school but does not participate in normal classes. 

  3. Suspension: This is a temporary exclusion from school, generally used for more serious infractions like fighting, bullying, or repeated violations of school policies.

  4. Expulsion: In severe cases, such as when a student is found in possession of a weapon or drugs on school property, expulsion may be enforced.  Expulsion occurs when a student is removed from school for more than 10 consecutive school days.

Restorative Practices

Some schools adopt restorative justice practices, focusing on mediation and agreement rather than punitive measures. Restorative practices help students understand that their behaviors impact others, offering ways to repair harm and "restore" the student's place in the school community.
 

Legal Rights in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, student discipline must adhere to state-specific regulations in addition to federal laws. Key legal considerations include:

  • Due Process: Students facing suspension for more than 10 days, or expulsion, are entitled to a formal hearing. This process ensures that the student and their guardians are informed of the charges, can present their side of the story, and can appeal decisions.

  • Special Education Students: Additional protections exist for students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Disciplinary actions involving special education students require careful consideration of their Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and any behavior related to their disability. Schools must conduct a manifestation determination review before changing a special education student's placement due to disciplinary actions.
     

Conclusion

Navigating student discipline in schools today requires a careful balance between maintaining order and respecting the legal rights of students. Effective discipline strategies must be adaptable to the age and developmental stage of students, while also ensuring compliance with legal standards. In states like Pennsylvania, where specific laws further complicate the disciplinary landscape, schools must be diligent in applying fair and lawful disciplinary measures. As educational policies continue to evolve, the challenge lies in creating disciplinary systems that are both just and effective, fostering safe and supportive learning environments for all students.

Contact Zundel Law by either calling (412) 212-8356 or emailing info@zundellawpgh.com

Zundel Law serves clients in the following Pennsylvania counties and beyond:

  • Allegheny 

  • Washington 

  • Westmoreland 

  • Fayette 

  • Greene 

  • Beaver 

  • Butler 

  • Lawrence 

  • Somerset 

  • Armstrong 

  • Warren 

  • Venango 

  • Mercer 

  • Erie 

  • Crawford 

  • Clarion 

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