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Student Codes of Conduct: Serious Violations and Violence

More Serious Violations

When students commit more serious violations, good student codes of conduct should be able to address the problematic behavior and prescribe appropriate punishment. Among those more serious violations are the following:

  • Cheating or plagiarizing
  • Using profane, obscene, or ethnically offensive language
  • Possessing pornographic material
  • Theft (from another student or from the school)
  • Gambling on school grounds
  • Threatening the safety of another student
  • Fighting with another student

Students who commit these more serious offenses will face stronger punishment. But no school district wants merely to punish a student and let an incident drop, particularly in light of the heightened sensitivity to school violence. Intervention programs often begin with conferences between the student and his or her parents or guardians and teachers and school administrators. Discipline can be rehabilitative in form. Instead of being suspended from class, for example, a student might be assigned to do a community service project. Someone who vandalizes a school building may have to repair that damage instead of merely paying for it.

Violence and Other Extreme Behavior

For many years school violence was thought to exist only in poor inner-city schools, with most of that violence directed against specific students (gangs, for example). A series of highly publicized shooting attacks - likely the most famous of which was a shooting in Columbine, Colorado, that left 12 students and one teacher dead - changed the public's perception of school violence. What was particularly chilling about many of the attacks was often the students responsible were regarded as quiet and unassuming.

It is simplistic to say that a code of conduct would have kept some of the most deadly sniper attacks from taking place. That said, student codes of conduct do send a clear message to students that certain behavior will not be tolerated, including teasing and bullying. Some of the students who killed their fellow students were said to have been bullied and taunted by their classmates over a period of years.

Sexual Assault

Due to high-profile cases cropping up throughout the country, sexual assault has come to the forefront of the public eye. Sexual assault is used to describe any crime related to unwanted sexual contact, ranging from inappropriate groping to attempted rape. Sexual assault cases sparked national debate in 2012 and 2013 when news headlines described numerous instances of high school boys taking advantage of girls who were too intoxicated to legally consent to sexual activity or who were pressured into acts in which they did not wish to participate.

In addition to criminal charges that can come from any sexual assault, many school districts have listed sexual assault among the most serious or violent offenses in the student code of conduct. Most schools allow immediate suspension, expulsion or transfer to an alternative disciplinary education program for any sexual assault.

Many parents believe their children would never commit such a crime, but experts have found that many high school students do not understand the complex concept of legal consent. As a result, many child psychologists stress the importance of ensuring that sexually active minors understand the need for assurance - through clear, unambiguous statements not tainted with drugs or alcohol - that their partner wishes to engage in the activity.

Identifying Troubled Students

Truly troubled students who might have tendencies to resort to extreme violence against their peers and teachers cannot be stopped simply by student codes of conduct. What a code of conduct can do, however, is help identify behavior patterns in children early on. A youngster who is constantly disrupting class and breaking rules is clearly having trouble adjusting, and the school can work with the youngster and the parents to identify the problem. The class bully needs to be disciplined, but without some sort of additional action (such as counseling) the discipline becomes merely punitive.

Not every troubled student will react violently, of course, but that does not mean the school has no obligation to reach out and help when help seems appropriate. Regarding serious crime, students who commit felony offenses are removed automatically from most schools; if under age these individuals may be placed in a juvenile detention facility where they can continue their education; if over 16 they can be tried as an adult for their crimes and imprisoned if convicted.

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