School Discipline and Safety


Edited by: Suzanne E. Eckes, Charles J. Russo & Allan G. Osborne Jr.

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    Charles J. Russo

    University of Dayton

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr.

    Principal (Retired), Snug Harbor Community School, Quincy, Massachusetts

    Volume Editors

    Suzanne E. Eckes

    Indiana University

    Charles J. Russo

    University of Dayton

    Advisory Board

    Francine DeFranco

    Homer Babbidge Library, University of Connecticut

    Ralph D. Mawdsley

    Cleveland State University

    Martha M. McCarthy

    Loyola Marymount University and Indiana University

    Mark E. Shelton

    Monroe C. Gutman Education Library, Harvard University


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    About the Editors-in-Chief

    Charles J. Russo, JD, EdD, is the Joseph Panzer Chair in Education in the School of Education and Allied Professions and an adjunct professor in the School of Law at the University of Dayton. He was the 1998–1999 president of the Education Law Association and 2002 recipient of its McGhehey (Achievement) Award. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals; has authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited 40 books; and has in excess of 800 publications. Russo also speaks extensively on issues in education law in the United States and abroad.

    Along with having spoken in 33 states and 25 nations on 6 continents, Russo has taught summer courses in England, Spain, and Thailand; he also has served as a visiting professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and the University of Newcastle, Australia; the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; South East European University, Macedonia; the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa; the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He regularly serves as a visiting professor at the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University.

    Before joining the faculty at the University of Dayton as professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration in July 1996, Russo taught at the University of Kentucky in Lexington from August 1992 to July 1996 and at Fordham University in his native New York City from September 1989 to July 1992. He taught high school for 8½ years before and after graduation from law school. He received a BA (classical civilization) in 1972, a JD in 1983, and an EdD (educational administration and supervision) in 1989 from St. John's University in New York City. He also received a master of divinity degree from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, in 1978, as well as a PhD Honoris Causa from the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University, South Africa, in May 2004 for his contributions to the field of education law.

    Russo and his wife, a preschool teacher who provides invaluable assistance proofreading and editing, travel regularly both nationally and internationally to Russo's many speaking and teaching engagements.

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr. is the retired principal of the Snug Harbor Community School in Quincy, Massachusetts, a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. During his 34 years in public education, he served as a special education teacher, director of special education, assistant principal, and principal. He also served as an adjunct professor of special education and education law at several colleges, including Bridgewater State University and American International University.

    Osborne earned an EdD in educational leadership from Boston College and an MEd in special education from Fitchburg State College (now Fitchburg State University) in Massachusetts. He received a BA in psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

    Osborne has authored or coauthored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, monographs, and textbooks on legal issues in education, along with textbooks on other aspects of education. Although he writes and presents in several areas of educational law, he specializes in legal and policy issues in special education. He is the coauthor, with Charles J. Russo, of five texts published by Corwin, a SAGE company.

    A past president of the Education Law Association (ELA), Osborne has been an attendee and presenter at most ELA conferences since 1991. He has also written a chapter now titled “Students With Disabilities” for the Yearbook of Education Law, published by ELA, since 1990. He is on the editorial advisory committee of West's Education Law Reporter and is coeditor of the “Education Law Into Practice” section of that journal, which is sponsored by ELA. He is also on the editorial boards of several other education journals.

    In recognition of his contributions to the field of education law, Osborne was presented with the McGhehey Award by ELA in 2008, the highest award given by the organization. He is also the recipient of the City of Quincy Human Rights Award, the Financial Executives Institute of Massachusetts Principals Award, the Junior Achievement of Massachusetts Principals Award, and several community service awards.

    Osborne spends his time in retirement writing, editing, and working on his hobbies, genealogy and photography. He and his wife Debbie, a retired elementary school teacher, enjoy gardening, traveling, attending theater and musical performances, and volunteering at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

    About the Volume Editors

    Suzanne E. Eckes is an associate professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Indiana University. She has published more than 70 articles and book chapters on school law, is an editor of the Principal's Legal Handbook, and is a member of the board of directors for the Education Law Association. She is the recipient of the Jack A. Culbertson Award for outstanding achievements in education from the University Council of Educational Administration. Prior to joining the faculty at Indiana University, Eckes was a high school French teacher and an attorney. She earned her master's degree in education from Harvard University and her law degree and PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

    Charles J. Russo, JD, EdD, is the Joseph Panzer Chair in Education in the School of Education and Allied Professions and adjunct professor in the School of Law at the University of Dayton. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals; has authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited 40 books; and has more than 800 publications.

    Before joining the faculty at the University of Dayton as professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration in July 1996, Russo taught at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and at Fordham University in New York City. He earned a BA in classical civilization in 1972, a JD in 1983, and an EdD in educational administration and supervision in 1989, all from St. John's University in New York City. He also earned a master of divinity degree from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, in 1978.

    About the Contributors

    M. David Alexander is a professor at Virginia Tech. He is the coauthor of five books, one of which, American Public School Law, in its eighth edition, with Kern Alexander, is widely used in graduate courses. Another book The Law of Schools, Students and Teachers in a Nutshell is a popular book with school practitioners. He has also written numerous research reports and articles.

    Phillip Blackman received his JD from the UCLA School of Law and is a PhD candidate in Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University. His research is focused on the legal issues surrounding state funding for public institutions of higher education. Blackman is currently serving as the director of special projects at McDaniel College where he oversees focused fundraising efforts.

    Susan C. Bon is an associate professor in the Education Leadership Program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Previously, Bon worked as the ombudsman in the State Superintendent's Division of the Ohio Department of Education. She has published numerous school law articles and book chapters and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Education Law Association. Bon received her law degree and doctorate from The Ohio State University.

    Mary C. Bradley is currently an assistant professor and program coordinator for the counselor education master's degree at Indiana University Southeast. She has been researching forms of school violence for nearly 10 years. She loves teaching and supervising graduate students and is grateful to those working to keep our schools safe.

    Sarah B. Burke is a graduate of Indiana University, where she earned her EdS in school psychology and MS in educational psychology. She has worked as a school psychologist in Illinois and Wisconsin and is currently raising her 2-year-old son while focusing on research, writing, and editing.

    Nathan Burroughs is a research associate at the Institute for Research on Mathematics and Science Education at Michigan State University, and recently of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Georgia.

    Luke M. Cornelius is an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of North Florida. He teaches and researches in the areas of education law, school finance, educational policy and politics, and sports law.

    Janet R. Decker is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Cincinnati where she teaches education law courses. Her research and publications focus on legal and policy issues related to negligence, special education, charter schools, and technology.

    Todd A. DeMitchell is a professor and chair of the Department of Education, and the Lamberton Professor in the Justice Studies Program at the University of New Hampshire. Most recently he was named Distinguished Professor. His research focuses on the legal mechanisms that impact schools and colleges. He has authored/coauthored five books and more than 145 publications.

    Robin L. Fankhauser is an associate professor in the Educational Leadership Program and director of graduate studies at the Indiana University Southeast School of Education. Prior to teaching in the graduate program, she served as a public school educator for 28 years as an elementary teacher, elementary principal, Kentucky Distinguished Educator, budget director, and superintendent.

    Allison S. Fetter-Harrott is an assistant professor of political science at Franklin College, in Franklin, Indiana. Her research interests include public school anti-harassment measures, free speech, and the interplay between public schools and the First Amendment's religion clauses.

    Richard Fossey is a professor and Mike Moses Endowed Chair in Educational Leadership at the University of North Texas. He received his JD from the University of Texas School of Law and his EdD from Harvard University. He is editor of the Journal of Cases in Education Leadership and Catholic Southwest.

    Aimee Vergon Gibbs is an attorney with the law firm of Dickinson Wright, PLLC, Detroit, Michigan, which has a long-standing tradition of providing superior legal services to schools, colleges, and universities throughout the Great Lakes region. Her practice focuses on school law. Gibbs has served as general counsel to both public and private educational entities and has advised clients regarding various student matters, including discipline, special education, and First Amendment issues.

    Jesulon S. R. Gibbs is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Her research and teaching foci are public school law and educational policy analysis. She is also a contract attorney for Boykin & Davis, LLC, a school law firm. Dr. Gibbs's recent book is titled Student Speech on the Internet: The Role of First Amendment Protections.

    Michelle Gough McKeown is the assistant director of legal affairs at the Indiana Department of Education. She is currently at the dissertation stage of her graduate coursework in education policy and leadership at Indiana University School of Education. She earned her JD from Indiana University – Bloomington Maurer School of Law in 2006 and her BA in English literature from DePauw University in 2003. She has practiced education law at the law firm of Deatherage, Myers & Lackey in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

    Stephen M. Harper received his JD from Indiana University–Bloomington Maurer School of Law. He currently is a legal fellow in the Indiana University General Counsel's Office.

    Allison A. Howland is an assistant professor and program coordinator for special education at Indiana University–Purdue University Columbus and researcher at the Center for Adolescent and Family Studies at Indiana University–Bloomington. Her work focuses on how parent engagement policies support academic achievement and social-emotional competency in school-aged youth.

    Ralph D. Mawdsley holds a JD from the University of Illinois and a PhD from the University of Minnesota. He has authored more than 500 publications on the subject of education law. Mawdsley was president of the Education Law Association in 2001 and was awarded that organization's Marion A. McChehey Award in 2004. He has received two Fulbright Awards, one to South Africa and one to Australia.

    Stephanie D. McCall is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include curriculum theory, gender issues in education, single-gender education policies and practices, and qualitative research.

    Peter L. Moran is a doctoral candidate in the Higher Education program at Pennsylvania State University. He earned a JD from Brooklyn Law School, and he researches the history of legal education and legal issues in higher education. Moran currently serves as an administrative fellow at Pennsylvania State University, Altoona College.

    Theresa A. Ochoa is an associate professor at Indiana University. Her areas of research and interests include emotional and behavioral disorders, special education law, and teacher preparation.

    Emily Richardson is a PhD candidate in education policy at Indiana University–Bloomington School of Education. She received her JD from Indiana University–Bloomington Maurer School of Law.

    Diana Rogers-Adkinson is currently a professor and chair of the Department of Special Education at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater.

    Erin B. Snell is an experienced educator and provider of teacher professional development. She began her career as a teacher with Teach For America (TFA), has worked in various capacities for TFA, and recently returned to the classroom as a 5th grade teacher. Snell earned her PhD in educational leadership and policy studies from Indiana University

    Amy Steketee is an attorney at Baker & Daniels in South Bend, Indiana where she practices school law as well as labor and employment law. Steketee has authored or coauthored numerous articles on school law topics. Prior to working as an attorney, Steketee was a high school teacher and guidance counselor. She earned her master's in education and her law degree from Indiana University.

    Jennifer Sughrue earned her PhD in educational leadership and policy studies at Virginia Tech in 1997. Prior to that, Sughrue was in K–12 international education for nearly 20 years. She began her higher education career as an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Virginia Tech; then she joined the faculty in the Department of Educational Leadership at Florida Atlantic University in 2004 and became an associate professor. She is now an associate professor at Old Dominion University.

    Dana N. Thompson Dorsey is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thompson Dorsey's research focuses on legal issues in education and policy as they relate to educational equity, race, poverty, and critical race theory in education.

    Potheini Vaiouli is a PhD student in special education at Indiana University – Bloomington. She is a graduate of New York University with a master's in Music Therapy. As a music therapist in special education units, Vaiouli has developed a strong focus on the use of music and its role for the social, emotional, and/or educational growth of students with special needs.

    Charles B. Vergon, an attorney, holds faculty appointments in educational leadership and public administration at Youngstown State University and the University of Michigan–Flint, respectively. He has worked extensively on issues of fair and effective discipline, carrying out federal court-mandated studies and providing technical assistance on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to school districts and state education agencies.

    Spencer C. Weiler is an assistant professor in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Northern Colorado. His research focuses on equal access to knowledge for all children. Specifically, Weiler explores access issues from a school law, school finance, and leadership perspective.


    Student discipline and safety is one of the most complex issues confronting educators on a daily basis. With the creation of public schools in mid-19th-century America, there came a need for discipline policies designed to maintain control of schools while keeping students safe. From the outset, there was little debate about whether teachers had the right and responsibility to address discipline and school safety. Yet, disagreements remain regarding how best to address the need to ensure the safety of students and staff.

    It is difficult to generalize about what occurs in public schools throughout the United States because individual state legislatures provide guidelines for student punishment. Typically, state statutes permit school officials to exclude students from instruction if their conduct disrupts school operations. However, because the power to suspend or expel students from school is statutory, the use of disciplinary punishments varies between jurisdictions. Also, although each state is free to set its own disciplinary statutes and regulations, some jurisdictions have created statutory obligations for state and local school boards to create student codes of conduct. Accordingly, local school boards have the discretion to institute more detailed discipline policies than those described by state law. When establishing discipline codes, educational officials should ensure that students and their parents clearly understand the rules for school behavior.

    When dealing with school discipline, the United States has adopted the doctrine of in loco parentis (literally, “in the place of the parent”) from English common law. Although it is still a matter of common law rather than statute in most states, in loco parentis affords nonparental caregivers of children, including teachers and school officials, specified rights and responsibilities. To this end, in loco parentis is often cited as the basis for school officials’ authority to discipline students. Policies enacted pursuant to in loco parentis permit educators to exercise their custodial powers in a reasonable manner by intervening when students create dangerous situations that put themselves or others at risk of injury. At the same time, as highlighted in one of the debates in this volume, some contend that in loco parentis has gone too far and that school officials are playing too big a role in disciplining students. Some teachers voice concern about the role they must play in disciplining students for misbehavior. There are other concerns related to disciplinary issues undermining classroom learning and bringing down teacher morale. One study reports that many teachers consider quitting as a result of student discipline issues (see Billitteri, 2008).

    Despite ongoing debate about the appropriate limits of school discipline, educational laws and policies permit teachers to exercise reasonable custodial powers by intervening to discipline students who violate school rules. In exercising these powers, teachers have relied on a variety of disciplinary measures. In early years, corporal punishment was the most prevalent form of intervention. In its only case to address the merits of this issue, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that corporal punishment in public schools is not considered to be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment (Ingraham v. Wright, 1977). However, during the 1960s and 1970s, protections for students also broadened (see Billitteri, 2008). In the 1960s, the Supreme Court expanded students’ speech rights (see Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969) and afforded them additional due process rights when facing discipline in schools (see Goss v. Lopez, 1975).

    The Supreme Court's ruling in Ingraham notwithstanding, approximately 30 states now ban corporal punishment. Of the states allowing corporal punishment, all but 6 leave the decision whether it can be imposed to the discretion of local school boards. This volume includes a debate over whether corporal punishment should be abolished in public schools.

    As the United States began to see an increase in school violence in the 1980s, zero tolerance policies became more widely used in an attempt to protect students while ensuring that they obey reasonable school rules. The use of suspensions and expulsions has also increased as a means for disciplining students. When school board officials suspend or expel students, they must ensure that students’ due process rights are protected. Generally, if discipline procedures applied by school officials satisfy the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment, the courts uphold their actions as long as they are reasonable. Substantive due process prohibits state actions infringing on the fundamental liberties of individuals, while procedural due process usually requires officials to provide students with notice and hearing procedures before they can be deprived of rights such as liberty or property. In the context of school discipline, punishment does not conflict with substantive due process unless an action is “arbitrary, capricious, or wholly unrelated to the legitimate state goal of maintaining an atmosphere conducive to learning” (Jefferson v. Yselta Independent School District, 1987, pp. 305–306).

    The courts have considered education to be a property right, thus triggering due process rights if public school officials attempt to deprive students of their education. In Goss, when nine public high school students were suspended for 10 days without a hearing, the Supreme Court reasoned that “a student's legitimate entitlement to a public education [is] a property interest which is protected by the Due Process Clause and may not be taken away … without adherence to the minimum procedure required by the Clause” (Goss v. Lopez, 1975, p. 574).

    Goss, then, set the standard for requiring minimal constitutional requirements when students are faced with short-term suspensions of 10 days or less. The Supreme Court held that when students face such short-term suspensions, officials must provide them with oral or written notice of the charges against them. If accused students deny the charges, officials must explain the evidence against them while affording them an opportunity to present their side of the story in an informal setting. Some courts have interpreted this to mean that school officials may informally discuss the alleged misconduct with students. As a result of Goss, when students are facing expulsion or suspension, they are entitled to some form of procedural due process. The due process requirements differ according to the length of the exclusion from school.

    Unfortunately, Goss did not provide specific guidance for longer suspensions or expulsions. Instead, the Supreme Court ambiguously pointed out that more formal procedures are necessary when students are removed for longer periods of time. As a result, some school officials look to Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education (1961), a case from the Fifth Circuit (now Eleventh Circuit as a result of a shift in the federal court system), for guidance regarding expulsion. In Dixon, students attending a state college were expelled without notice of the charges they faced and without a hearing after they participated in a lunch counter sit-in. The court found that students involved in expulsion hearings should be given the names of the witnesses against them and an oral or written report on the acts to which each witness testifies. Students should also be given the opportunity to present their own defense against the charges and to produce either oral testimony or written affidavits of witnesses (Skiba, Eckes, & Brown, 2009/2010).

    In response to Goss and Dixon, the details of the required disciplinary procedures for students vary from one state to the next. The reason for this differentiation is that state legislators and school boards used different laws and regulations to define the procedures for due process. At the same time, procedural requirements may vary depending on the circumstances of a given situation. Once students are expelled, school boards generally are not required to provide education services to general education students unless such local board policy and/or state law require them to do so. However, students with disabilities who face disciplinary sanctions and/or expulsions have significantly greater rights to procedural due and cannot have their right to an education discontinued totally (Osborne & Russo, 2009).

    In response to the perception that violence in schools has increased, zero tolerance policies mandating harsher consequences for both major and minor violations began to be implemented widely in schools and districts. Zero tolerance policies in schools are generally understood as being applicable to prescribed, mandatory sanctions, typically expulsions or suspensions for infractions, with little or no consideration of the circumstances or consequences of the offenses.

    Congress has recognized the increase in school violence and as a result passed the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1990, which was subsequently rewritten after the Supreme Court invalidated it (Russo, 1995); it is now known as the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995. The act requires each state receiving federal funds to expel, for at least one year, any student who possesses a firearm on school grounds. Pursuant to this act, there is an allowance for school officials to adjust punishments at their discretion on case-by-case bases. Special education students who are expelled for gun possession may be placed in alternative instructional programs (Skiba et al., 2009/2010).

    The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 specifies that all states must enact legislation requiring at least a 1-year expulsion, and states are permitted to expand the scope of the law to include other weapons. Although the American Federation of Teachers supported this measure, opposing groups challenged the law as unconstitutional. For example, the Sixth Circuit struck down a zero tolerance policy, reasoning that it would have violated a student's right to substantive due process if he had been suspended or expelled for unknowingly possessing a weapon because a friend left one in the glove compartment of his vehicle (Seal v. Morgan, 2000).

    As a result of the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995, states have attempted to implement similar legislation. For example, shortly after the passage of the Gun-Free Schools Act, every state and the District of Columbia enacted some form of zero tolerance policy. Interestingly, some school officials expanded the scope of legitimate expulsions under the act even further to include other types of behaviors such as fighting and drug possession. As a result, zero tolerance policies have been under attack by the American Bar Association, which recently approved a resolution opposing zero tolerance policies in schools (Skiba et al., 2009/2010).

    One criticism of zero tolerance policies is that they disproportionately impact students of color. Yet, others argue that zero tolerance actually reduces discrimination because there is less of a chance for favoritism (see Billitteri, 2008). For example, the superintendent's child will be treated in the same manner as any other student who violates such a policy. Nevertheless, opponents of zero tolerance policies argue that they do not effectively balance safety concerns with educational opportunities for all students. To this end, the Justice Policy Institute and the Children's Law Center contend that zero tolerance policies are creating pipelines into the juvenile justice system (Heard, 1997). Others contend that suspension and expulsion rates have unnecessarily increased for minor infractions (Billitteri, 2008). This book explores some of the controversies associated with zero tolerance policies. One chapter debates whether zero tolerance policies are acceptable with respect to drugs, alcohol, and weapons, while another focuses on the controversy surrounding the over-representation of minority students in school disciplinary matters.

    In addition to these areas, this book examines controversial topics relating to a variety of other school disciplinary and safety concerns through a point/counterpoint essay format. In so doing, this book discusses topics, including child abuse, suicide prevention, bullying, and classroom management. The remainder of this introductory essay highlights key controversies that are discussed in the following chapters.

    Discipline and Safety Issues with Respect to Special Populations

    This book includes chapters on discipline and safety issues related to students from special populations: students struggling with maladaptive behavior, students struggling with emotional behavioral disorders, and students with disabilities who are secluded and restrained. As to maladaptive behavior, there is debate within the education community over the role of teachers in the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of students with internalizing disorders. Internalizing disorders, such as depression and anxiety, often go undetected in the school-age population because the symptoms can be masked with more observable acting-out behaviors. Sometimes, symptoms are overlooked because students simply come off as quiet or reserved. This is a problem that is not likely to go away, though. A staggering number of students, with one study citing as many as 20% to 25%, will struggle with depression before their 18th birthday (Lewinsohn, Hops, Roberts, Seeley, & Andrews, 1993). Therefore, it is not surprising that schools have been identified as a logical place for screening and treatment to occur (Shirk & Jungbluth, 2008). Tensions within this debate revolve around whether teachers specifically would be involved in such efforts and, if so, what their role would look like. The authors of the point and counterpoint essays examine two different sides of the debate concerning the classroom teacher's role in identifying and working with students with internalizing disorders or maladaptive behaviors.

    Turning to safety concerns for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBDs), experts agree that the best intervention is prevention. Research shows that the earliest possible interventions are needed to halt the destructive progression of such disorders that can occur throughout a child's elementary and secondary school years (Webster-Stratton & Reid, 2004). The positive behavior intervention supports (PBIS) model uses a three-tiered approach to prevention that initially focuses on all students in the school and becomes more selective and intensive as additional services are needed. A number of the early studies conducted on the effectiveness of PBIS strategies provided convincing endorsements of the support system, and the approach was largely adopted in the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Crimmins & Farrell, 2006). However, this chapter notes the importance of exploring some of the limitations and criticisms of PBIS. These include issues related to treatment fidelity, reliability of office discipline referrals as a measure of school improvement, cost factors, and methodological limitations of the research regarding PBIS.

    Teacher Responsibility for Student Suicide

    This book also discusses the growing concern that educators face in their duty to prevent student suicide. Specifically, when addressing the issue of adolescent suicide, experts grapple with the question of whose responsibility it is to stop suicides before they happen. Among those best positioned to assist are parents, friends, primary care physicians, mental health professionals, and teachers. Many argue that because teachers have daily contact with children and often know students well, they may be able to identify the need for intervention before others recognize it. According to proponents of this position, teachers, through their normal daily routines, can easily observe and report students who are contemplating suicide. These individuals add that teachers also have quick access to counselors or psychologists within their schools who can provide all but immediate assistance to needy students.

    Engaging teachers as the gatekeepers of adolescent suicide is complicated, though. On the other hand, the point essay maintains that since teachers are already charged with various tasks from teaching content to managing overcrowded classrooms, they cannot carry the heavy burden of preventing all student tragedies associated with suicides. In fact, courts have not found school personnel liable for student suicides as long as they behaved in a reasonable manner.

    The Role of School Resource Officers

    In the years since the tragic shootings in Columbine, Colorado, law enforcement personnel have become an increasingly more common sight in schools around the country. These law enforcement agents or school resource officers (SROs) are on contract from local departments of law enforcement to help ensure that schools are safe. Although typically funded through state or federal funding, SROs have unique legal and social positions in schools and districts that generate controversies among civil liberties organizations, school boards, administrators, parents, and even students. Specifically, there has been debate regarding the role that SROs should play in public schools. In this book, one chapter debates whether SROs should function strictly as police officers or whether they should be considered more holistically and be integrated into schools in a manner similar to other educational professionals such as counselors, teachers, and resource officers. Both sides offer differing arguments that are sure to serve as food for thought regardless of where one is on this timely issue that has a great impact on student safety.

    Harassment and Bullying

    According to several sources, more than 75% of students have experienced bullying in schools. Such statistics are troublesome considering that peer harassment and bullying can have long-term psychological effects on student victims. Although bullying affects all students, research further confirms that bullies often target those with disabilities and those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Sadly, recent student suicides that have been related to bullying in schools have been widespread in the media. As a result, debates surrounding the role that educators should play in addressing bullying in schools abound as an array of organizations have dedicated themselves to examining how to address the dangers of bullying. Among the key organizations here are Stop Bullying Now, the Safe Schools Coalition, and the International Bullying Prevention Association.

    Without a doubt, school officials play a role in providing a safe educational environment that is free of peer harassment and bullying. In fact, school boards and educational officials have faced an onslaught of litigation filed on behalf of students who have been bullied or harassed, particularly by peers, in the classroom. The point and counterpoint essays in this chapter debate whether such laws ask too much of classroom teachers and take opposite positions on the issue. The author of the point essay is satisfied that existing laws have done enough to balance the rights of students while not rendering school boards and educators liable too easily for harassment or bullying. Conversely, the counterpoint essay argues that educators and the law need to do more to keep students safe from harassment and bullying at the hands of peers.

    Classroom Management

    Teachers take on a number of different roles and responsibilities throughout typical school days. Still, perhaps the most important and likely the most demanding task that teachers face is trying to maintain safe, well-managed classrooms. Since it is extremely difficult for teachers to instruct and for students to learn in chaotic and disorderly classrooms, it is hard to overstate the importance of the ability of teachers to create a collaborative learning environment with a strong sense of structure. In fact, a number of researchers have concluded that the effectiveness of classroom teachers is the most important factor within the control of educational officials that impacts student academic achievement (Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering, 2003).

    Good classroom management is multilayered. Skilled teachers will carefully consider a variety of elements in setting up and carrying out classroom operations. Early on, teachers often work to state positively the expectations of the collaborative learning environment while explicitly teaching the procedures to be used in their classrooms. The physical space of classrooms can also be arranged in such a way that helps maximize the ability of teachers to supervise students actively while moving throughout their rooms. Although these general practices help students to take comfort in the predictability of classroom operations, teachers also face the daily challenge of finding new ways to engage students with creative lesson planning. After all, students who are engaged in positive learning activities are far less likely to create disciplinary problems. Finally, when discipline problems do arise, skilled teachers are likely to be firm yet positive in redirecting negative student behavior and using a hierarchy of preplanned intervention strategies (Crimmins, Farrell, Smith, & Bailey, 2007). Although the authors of the point and counterpoint essays agree about the importance of strong classroom management, they differ on the place of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards within the context of classroom management.

    Teacher Liability Protection Acts

    Teachers have a duty to supervise their students, and when they breach that duty, they may be held liable. When considering whether teachers can or should be liable for injuries that occur to the students in their care, courts often consider whether educators behaved as a reasonably prudent teacher would have in that situation and whether the injury was foreseeable. Generally, if educators behaved as a reasonably prudent teacher would have in that situation or the injury was not foreseeable, courts refuse to impose liability on them for the actions or omissions. Despite this fact, teachers continue to worry about facing suits when they use reasonable force in disciplining students.

    The No Child Left Behind Act includes a section called the “Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001” (TPA). The intention behind this part of the act is to protect teachers or other school officials in the event that they injure a student while attempting to impose discipline. To be precise, the law maintains that school officials are immune to suits if students are injured while employees are attempting to “control, discipline, expel, or suspend a student or maintain order or control in the classroom or school.” After the federal TPA was enacted, individual states adopted similar laws to protect teachers from liability when they may have injured students during disciplinary matters. Generally, these state laws grant immunity to public school teachers and administrators who injure students when imposing disciplinary sanctions as long as they act in good faith with no intent to harm children.

    The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 adopted portions of the Coverdell Act. Although the goal of the Coverdell Act is to help reduce the number of suits against teachers, the National Education Association (NEA) and other teacher unions have criticized the plan. Specifically, the NEA has complained that the Coverdell Act is not a comprehensive plan to protect teachers from all legal liability. The point essay supports the proposition that educators and school boards benefit from state and federal teacher protection laws. Conversely, the counterpoint essay responds that insofar as teacher protection statutes are constructed so narrowly that they are unnecessary.

    Dress Code Policies

    School officials can require students to wear goggles in chemistry class or uniforms in physical education courses, if such requirements are related to health and safety concerns. For the same reason, most public schools may also regulate how the students dress. Of course, students have the right to express themselves with their dress, but these rights are balanced with concerns about school safety. As a way to encourage student safety, some school boards have crafted policies requiring uniforms, while others have chosen to prohibit specified items of apparel often associated with what is referred to as “gang clothing.” For example, school boards in districts that have had issues with gang activity, a major issue of school safety, may choose to regulate specified colors or to ban baggy pants or bandanas, or they may choose to implement uniform policies. Even so, it is without question that school policies regulating student dress have remained controversial.

    This chapter examines the tensions surrounding student dress code policies. In the point essay, the author argues that school boards can and should adopt dress code policies that focus on student safety. The point essay contends that educational officials have wide latitude in adopting dress code policies as long as such policies do not infringe on students’ First Amendment rights. In the counterpoint essay, the author explains how officials can sometimes be overzealous in adopting dress code policies. Although the counterpoint essay agrees that dress code policies are often necessary, this essay argues that educators should focus their time and energy on immediate responses to violence instead of fixating on the particular clothing a student wears to school.

    Child Abuse and Neglect

    Teachers will likely confront situations where they suspect that one of their students has been abused or neglected. In these situations, teachers are required to report suspected abuse and neglect to the appropriate authority. In addition to their legal obligations, teachers are expected to react sensitively and appropriately when students disclose that they have been victims of abuse. Knowing the signs of abuse and neglect, understanding one's responsibilities, and learning appropriate ways of responding to children who disclose abuse are an important part of teacher preparation programs. As the point essay notes, reporting child abuse and neglect is an ethical and legal obligation for teachers and school personnel. Yet, the counterpoint essay argues that mandating reporting of any and all suspicion of child abuse and neglect does raise concerns because it may require educators to intrude too far into the lives of families, thereby creating even more problems. The counterpoint essay concludes that insofar as it is not clear whether teachers really understand what is involved in reporting child abuse and neglect, perhaps it is best that they not be required to report all suspected incidents.


    The goal of this volume is to frame some of the larger debates with regard to safety and discipline issues that educators face on a daily basis. Thus, the point/counterpoint essay format should hopefully provide readers with different perspectives on the variety of school safety and disciplinary issues that it addresses.

    Suzanne E.EckesIndiana University
    Charles J.RussoUniversity of Dayton
    Further Readings and Resources
    Billitteri, T. (2008). Discipline in schools. CQ Researcher, 18(7), 145–168.
    Crimmins, D., & Farrell, A. F. (2006). Individualized behavioral supports at 15 years: It's still lonely at the top. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 31(1), 31–45.
    Crimmins, D., Farrell, A., Smith, P., & Bailey, A. (2007). Positive strategies for students with behavior problems. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
    Heard, J. (1997, March 11). Off-campus crime spells expulsion from school. Chicago Tribune, p. 1.
    Lewinsohn, P. M., Hops, H., Roberts, R. E., Seeley, J. R., & Andrews, J. (1993). Adolescent psychopathology: Prevalence and incidence of depression and other DSM-III-R disorders in high school students. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 133–144.
    Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J. (2003). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    The National Education Association. Teacher Protection Act. Retrieved from
    Osborne, A. G., & Russo, C. J. (2009). Discipline of students with disabilities: Legal issues. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
    Russo, C. J. (1995). United States v. Lopez and the demise of the Gun-Free School Zones Act: Legislative over-reaching or judicial nit-picking?Education Law Reporter, 99(1), 11–23.
    Shirk, S. R., & Jungbluth, N. J. (2008). School-based mental health checkups: Ready for practical action?Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, 15(3), 217–223.
    Skiba, R., Eckes, S., & Brown, K. (2009/2010). African American disproportionality in school discipline. New York Law School Law Review, 54, 1071–1112.
    Webster-Stratton, C., & Reid, J. M. (2004). Strengthening social and emotional competence in young children—The foundation for early school readiness and success: Incredible Years classroom social skills and problem-solving curriculum. Infants and Young Children, 17, 96–113.
    Court Cases and Statutes

    Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education, 294 F.2d 150 (5th Cir. 1961).

    Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975).

    Gun-Free Schools Act, 20 U.S.C. Sec 8921 (2000) (repealed 2002).

    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.

    Ingraham v. Wright 430 U.S. 651 (1977).

    Jefferson v. Ysleta Independent School District, 817 F.2d 303 (5th Cir. 1987).

    No Child Left Behind Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 6301–7941 (2006).

    Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. §§ 6731 et seq. (2010).

    Seal v. Morgan, 229 F.3d 567 (6th Cir. 2000).

    Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

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