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Student Conduct and Discipline

Student misbehavior on school grounds can create difficult situations and potentially legal problems. If a student breaks the law in some way, law enforcement officers often handle the matter. But if it’s a matter of school discipline, it will be in the hands of school administrators. FindLaw's Student Conduct and Discipline section will help you understand your legal responsibilities, information and resources to help facilitate a safe and effective learning environment at school. You also will find practical information on classroom management and discipline -- such as truancy and bullying – and other legal issues related to school safety and authority.

Student Codes of Conduct

A code of conduct is a set of rules for how a given population (students, in this case) should behave, and the consequences for breaking these rules. The student code of conduct is, in a sense, a contract between students and school administrators, although it does not carry the weight of law. However, codes of conduct still must respect the law and may not trample on the rights of students. Sometimes there is some crossover. For instance, a code of conduct may prohibit things like fighting or cyberbullying, which also may violate criminal law or trigger a civil lawsuit.

Student codes of conduct typically cover the following behavior issues (but this is not a complete list):

  • Regularly coming to school without the proper supplies (gym clothes, books, etc.)
  • Excessive truancy
  • Leaving school campus without permission
  • Wearing inappropriate clothing (codes of conduct often include dress codes)
  • Vandalizing school property, including books or lab supplies
  • Using inappropriate or abusive language

School Discipline

Some states continue to allow the use of corporal punishment (paddling, spanking, etc.) by public school teachers and administrators, but most have prohibited this practice through statute. But corporal punishment was once seen as the proper way to manage a classroom and punish those who fail to conform to the rules. Most, but not all, schools that do use corporal punishment give parents the opportunity to opt-out on behalf of their children.

Another popular form of punishment that has begun to fall out of favor is suspension, which puts an enormous burden on parents and the community in general. Schools are more inclined to keep students in school by employing after-school detention or in-school suspension instead.

In general, state legislatures have set the groundwork for what is allowed and which procedures should be used with respect to discipline in public schools. For instance, many state laws spell out a teacher's authority to remove disruptive students from the classroom and when it is okay to use physical force against a student.

Bullying

Bullying was once simply viewed as a part of growing up; an unfortunate product of childhood. But in the wake of mass shootings, suicides, and a greater awareness of the psychological effects of bullying, schools have taken a more firm stance. Some schools have enacted a "zero tolerance" policy, where a single act of bullying can result in a suspension or other serious sanction, while others refer more extreme cases to the police.

With the advent of social media and mobile phone technology, bullying has the potentially to spread quickly, becoming much more traumatizing than just a single taunt by a classmate. In response, many schools have enacted strict cyberbullying rules and some students have been sued for instigating such behavior.

To learn more about student conduct and discipline, click on a link below.