HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Getting to the bottom of discipline at your child's school

Who's in charge of discipline at your school? Connect to the right person with this guide to discipline decisions.

By GreatSchools Staff

When you're dealing with a discipline issue, it's important to understand the roles of various decision-makers in a school community. Read on for a glimpse of who's got the power and what kinds of decisions they make.

The school's role in discipline decisions

Many issues of school safety and discipline are best addressed at the school level. Consequences for student misbehavior — short of actions requiring mandatory expulsion — generally vary from school to school. Schools must provide written notice of school rules and discipline procedures to students and parents.

State law requires that every school have a Comprehensive School Safety Plan. The plan, which should be developed by the School Site Council and reviewed annually, should include standards for student conduct as well as procedures for everything from natural disasters to bomb threats.

The school district's role in discipline decisions

The district's governing board must prescribe discipline rules, consistent with state and federal law, for the schools under its jurisdiction. Boards must also adopt policies and regulations regarding sexual harassment and a variety of other safety issues.

Zero tolerance is state law

By law, schools in California are required to recommend students for expulsion who have:

  • Possessed, sold or furnished a firearm
  • Brandished a knife at another person
  • Sold a controlled substance (such as a drug)
  • Committed or attempted to commit sexual assault or sexual battery

Upon finding that a student presents a continuing danger to other students or that other means of correction have failed or are not feasible, schools in California should recommend for expulsion students who have:

  • Caused serious physical injury to another person (except in self-defense)
  • Possessed any knife, explosive or other dangerous object
  • Unlawfully possessed any controlled substance (except the first offense for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana)
  • Committed robbery or extortion

The above lists cover incidents that occur on school grounds, going to and from school, and during lunch and at school-sponsored activities. Schools can suspend or expel students for various other offenses, as long as the students' actions relate to school attendance or school activities.

When a student is recommended for expulsion, the school board has the final decision. While zero-tolerance laws mandate that school districts recommend students for expulsion for certain offenses, a board has the power to suspend expulsions and set specific requirements, such as assigning the student to a specific school, class or program deemed appropriate for the rehabilitation of the student. If the student subsequently commits any "suspendable" or "expellable" offense, or violates any of the district's own rules and regulations, then the governing board may reinstate the expulsion. 

Comments from readers

"Schools can press charges for any conflicts between people on school grounds, whether they are teachers, students, school officials, or other. "
"Can a school press charges for assult and battery if 2 students get into a fight in class but only are hitting each other and not have hit a school offical? "
"i want to know the rules about how much time can a teacher take of a childs resses from with adhd. she has a hard time beighing still & she talks alot. can the teacher take away all her resses time? "
"My 16 yr old daughter came home from school today and told her father and i she had been suspened for one day due to 4 tardys this semester. To start with we were floored we knew of no tardys this was the first time hearing of point is why didnt some one call or write to me letting me know she was in danger of this so we could have made sure she wouldnt have been tardy again.She is a teenager as like most teenagers sometimes doesnt realize how serious things are like being tardy! just wondering shouldn't we have been warned first?( my child has never been in any kind of trouble before!) "
" I am upset with my childs school. My daughter was walking in the hallway and a girl called her fat,my daughter let it go. The girl then said something about her dead father and my daughter still let it go. My daughter told the officer on duty that she may get into a fight the oficer told her not to and didn't send her to guidence.The girls were then in the lunch room and my daughter got a water bottle thrown at her head.My daughter did not hit the other girl back but did swear at her.The school called at first I was upset with my daughter but after hearing the whole story I asked the principle if my daughter hit the other girl and she said no..Yet my daughter got the same punishmment as the other girl..I asked the school if this meant that my daughter couldn't attend the end of the year dance they said this wouldn't affect that..I recieve a letter a few weeks later stating that my daughter was unable to go the the field trip(after they accepted the money for it and this was! after the incident)and couldn't attend the dance.My daughter was in tears. I called and called no return call backs. I then went down to the school and met with the women in charge.She said that it was the rules if a student has been suspended they counldn't go to end of the year events.My daughter says to me in the office 'mom, can I go back to class I don't need to be here.' and right in front of me the principle says to my daughter, 'What?! you don't need to be in school?' I think she was looking for anything bad.Also my daughter was in the guidence office all day the day before telling them that she was having problems with some girls and they did nothing.I am not happy with the school at all I also called board of ED but, it was too late.ALL my daughters friends said there were other kids that had been suspended and failing that were at the dance. I feel she was treated unjust.My daughter is 14 and is a child.I think schools pick the kids they like and don't like wher! e is the justice?"
"My child attends a charter school here in Philadelphia, she is in kindergarden she is constantly being mistreated by some of her peers, and things have even gotten physical, and she defends herself but she's the one who get's in trouble. My child's school splits the boys classes from the girls and as a punishment she's put into the boys class for maybe the duratation of the morning and then the teacher brings her back in with the girls. I believe this is very wrong if she was defending herself, and if she gets in trouble than the bully should as well, but my child always get in trouble for defending herself. I have written several letters to her teacher and have spoken to her teacher as well about the children who are bulling her. The principal never returns calls or answers letters she avoids the matter. Can someone please tell me who I can elevate this bullying problem to, before things become tragic. Now I understand why children as young as kindergarden goes to the extre! me as to sneak weapons from home to defend themselves...My older girl who is 14 attended Catholic school and she breezed through, without any bullying or diciplinary problems, it's just catholic school is some expensive now, but if I have to I will be forced to put my youngest in there as well, just to save her future, but before I do that can someone please help me to research the right sources in order to resolve this matter. Sicerely, Worried & frustrated parent "
"What does a parent do or say to their child after they've been bullied and made fun if by other students and then after he can't take it anymore he threatens a student. He was upset for all the times the child mistreated him. Now because of his threat that he never intentionally was going to do anything just said to another child how would she feel if I did it to her. Where do you go from here how do you cope with something like this? When my child comes back to school how is my child suppose to cope when everyone will be looking at him & wondering."
"my son is in kindergarden and was suspended from school the day after he suppositly hit another student. there was no warning. i think that the teacher was unfair and should have done something besided suspending him for being a kid. i dont agree with it at all."
"Is it a problem if a teacher is hitting a kid in the head with a pencil or pen? not just once either.."
"I want to know what happens to a kid who is being bullied EVERY day by the same kids.One kid was slapping my child in the face, he would not stop. So my child hit the other kid to defend her self. i got a call from the school and was told ther was an incident with my child and another and that the two kids through some words. I was not told about the kid slapping my kid untill i picked her up from school that day. My child told me what had really happened. Why didnt the pricipal tell me what really happened? Why wasnt the bullier punished??? He still bullies my kid every day, he yells at her, tells lies about her. What should i do?"
"I know that I have a very stupid question but I have to ask you if a child that is in homeroom stands up is that a good reason and only that for a teacher to write up the student to discipline? Note the student did not disrupt the class in any way. I say no what is your respond. "
"I don't see anything that specifically helps my position. Can a school place a child on half days denying him access to other important classes if so for what reasons?? Can a Indiana school refuse to give Educational evaluation due to lack of funding? What can a parent do to get her child back in school?"
"has any other parent had a negative experience with unfair expulsions with a charter school?"
"I work in an elematary school. I had a kid call me a 'bitch' and nothing was done about it. Another kid told one of the other ladies I work with to shut up, again nothing was done really. All they really do is say 'oh don't do that again or you'll get ISS or you can't have recess. Big deal!! "
" By law, you are entitled to information regarding number of black students enrolled, as well as black students who have been expelled or suspended. The superintendant of the school district is accountable for furnishing this information. If the number and percentage illustrate that blacks are not treated equally, you should consider contacting a civil rights attorney. "
"My son was in an argument with his female cousin in his school quad area. Things got heated and they were pushing up against one another. When a teacher saw this, she grabbed my son and he pushed her hand off of him and both he and his cousin started to walk away. Now, the teacher didn't grab the female, she grabbed the male and then only my son was stopped when he tried to walk away, his cousin (female) was not stopped and she was allowed to walk away. My son was charged with battery, (the teacher said that he pushed up against her, when he walked away, she never agreed that she grabbed him) I think that she was advised to not say that she grabbed him. Anyway, he was expelled (the principal said they he hit the teacher) where she got that from, I'll never know... He is now out of the school district and in a charter school. He wants to go back to his own school, but I don't see that as a possibility. He was totally railroaded and thrown out of school for no good reason. I don't think that a white student would have been treated the same way. Public schools tend to discipline students of color more harshly than their white counterparts and it is grossly unfair and inequitable. Statistic after statistic shows that students of color are subjected to desparate treatment and nothing seems to be done about it. I wish that I can get across to these students of color that they must empower themselves with the knowledge that the system is inherently unfair to them and make sure that they play the game and walk a fine line in trying to keep themselves out of trouble. It is a shame that they can't just be kids like their white coherts, but that is the unfair world that we live least for non-white students. "
"Great information. However, I have a question regarding if a child makes a death threat to another child, what coarse of action should be taken?. A child (eighth grader) made a comment to another student that he hated my son and that he had a 'death plot' against him. This other child told my son about the comment and our son told us. We contacted the school regarding the threat explaining that We would not permit my son to attend classes until this was resolved. It took four days before we were contacted by the school. The Principal informed us that the child that made the treat admitted making the threat and when asked to put down in writing what had happened between the two boys, wrote that he had a death plan for my son Austin. After speaking with both the Principal and Superintendant, they feel that there really isn't anything to worry about. I'm not satisfied with that response. I feel that threats of this nature can't be taken too lightly. Any thoughts? "
"I would love to see the 'procedures' a high school or any other school is responsible for when they call in law enforcement. I cannot find this issue anywhere. My son was suspended for fighting - first offense - and was thereafter, charged with a criminal act, and the da tried to make him a ward of the court. I cannot believe that there are no set rules on what the school personnel can do without your knowledge, as well as law enforcement. "