New Alternatives to Student Discipline in the wake of Covid-19 Pandemic.

Students returning this fall have not only experienced a once in a life time pandemic, an extended stay-at-home period, minimal physical interaction with peers, but most likely watched the harrowing death of George Floyd, the protests and the heated discussions replayed over the media. Add to that equation, students who might have experienced a death, loss of jobs or loss of housing in the family due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With so many stressors right now, school districts should expect a different set of student body than in the past school years. Schools should at the very least expect some form of behavior regression in students.

The flip side of the pandemic is that most instruction for the new school year will start off on online platforms and in the wake of increased virtual learning, chances are that districts will see an increase in cyber-bullying or cyber-related misconduct.

Discipline measures that were somewhat effective in prior years will not be as effective in the current pandemic.

First, education advocates have long espoused the ineffectiveness of exclusionary disciplinary measures. There has been a nationwide call on school districts to refrain from the inordinate expulsion or suspension of students.

It is widely known that exclusionary punishments are not effective and disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities. Instead, there has been a heightened call for an increase of emotional behavioral supports instead of exclusionary supports during the pandemic.

In order to foster a safe learning space for all students, Districts would have to be more intentional as it approaches a student body who are now more than ever aware of social justice reforms.
Schools districts would have to embrace a trauma-informed approach rather than a punitive approach to school discipline. There has to be an acute awareness of student’s emotional needs.
To be best prepared, school districts need to be proactive to meet the needs of students when these behaviors do occur. They must institute policies that offer support students with challenging behaviors and train campus officials to create a positive school climate.

There has to be an intentional focus on prevention and intervention, to better support students who will struggle emotionally and behaviorally as a result of the pandemic.
For the foreseeable future, the main goal of school districts should be to identify kids who need support and get them that support.

While schools must continue to provide a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying and cyber-bullying, school districts will need to prioritize trauma-informed discipline practices over punitive and exclusionary practices.

Here are some proactive tips school districts can use to better prepare to balance the need to reduce challenging behaviors and duty to create safe school environments:

•Teach and emphasize behavior expectations. Behavior lessons should be infused into the curriculum to ensure that students know these behavior expectations regardless of whether such students are in-person or virtual learners.

• Increase social and emotional supports. The first few weeks will be the most challenging. Districts should increase social and emotional supports for first few weeks of the new school year. Directed focus on students who have struggled with behaviors or who have ongoing behaviors will help to prevent escalation of behaviors.

• Train and Re-train School Staff. School staff must be trained and re-trained on the rules governing discipline for students with disabilities and how to spot a child who needs more help than is currently offered.

• Model a calm nonjudgmental approach. School staff should help create and foster a positive and welcoming learning environment (online or in person) by displaying and modeling expected behaviors especially for students of color and students with mental health or behavioral issues.

• Evaluate the circumstances of infractions. School administrators must now start to evaluate the student’s circumstances before determining consequences for violating code of conduct rules.

• Partner with community, national agencies. Partnership with outside agencies to support student mental and social well-being and to develop positive and safe school climates will be very important in this current pandemic.

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