A humanizing disciplinary approach is socially, historically, and politically grounded in ideas that situate the school as an institutional ally in struggles for resistance to forces of inequity. This means that there are clearly established behavioral boundaries and corresponding high academic and intellectual expectations that sit in “cultural congruence” with community expectations and practices that have sustained community values over time. This approach is critical in communities that may experience high rates of crime and violence. In this context, school boundaries are set as extensions of the healthiest spaces of the community as existing boundaries for behavior and all communications are intended to serve two critical purposes:
To support the development of a responsible human being of high character
To affirm the psychological, emotional, physical, and intellectual value of the students and community members to which they are connected.
A disciplinary mandate in American schooling was made as a result of the 1974 Supreme Court case of Goss v. Lopez that involved students that were suspended from school without the opportunity to defend themselves. The Supreme Court’s decision was intended to give every student that has been accused of a violation the right to voice their side of the story and engage in a disciplinary discussion without being arbitrarily punished as guilty. The conversation between student and administrator that provides students with the opportunity to be heard and administrators with the responsibility to investigate accusations is referred to as due process.
So, what if you are an educator concerned with having a safe purposeful school that encourages authentic buy-in from students, families, and educators? What kind of conversation should be occurring that reinforce what you would like for your school to mean for your students? Here I have listed 10 steps that will be present in a humanizing due process discussion with the expectation that such a dialogue is connected to a larger vision and operational structure with practices that seek to develop healthy young people in communities that may struggle with crime and violence.
Students should always have the opportunity to explain what happened. This is not to be done with the administrator thinking that they already know what happened but rather with the administrator accepting that they have an idea of what happened and they are seeking clarification from the student.
An administrator should always communicate with the referring staff member or teacher either early in the conversation with the student or before the student arrives at their desk.
In order to effectively carry out a authentic form of due process must be able to conduct an effective investigation. This includes the ability to research the students pattern of recent and historical behavior, interview witnesses, and be discreet about both of these efforts in an attempt to not endanger the sources of information
The discussion has to be contextualized as a learning opportunity for the student in terms of what it is okay for them to do and what is not, and why. This question of “why” has to explore, again, social political historical factors within their community’s development and the school’s link to that community as an extension of the students’ network of caregivers.
Perhaps most important is the goal is to ensure that the student has an understanding of the impact their actions could have on themselves the school and their community, not simply as a violation of the school or the state discipline code.
The consequences must be consistent and should include options for temporary exclusion. The way which temporary exclusion is framed within this context of humanization is very important for the administrator the school staff and students and families to understand. This is your school and it is valuable because you are in it. No one shall violate this space without the potential for at least a temporary forfeiture of their right be in the building.
Whenever possible, atonement and resolution between parties must be part of the disciplinary process. There will be times when this is not possible. Inappropriate touching, assaults, and even common transgressions that can often occur among youth will happen. In these cases the administrator must play a key role in reminding students of the core communal values of the school and why they exist. This is to prevent any vengeful acts of aggression or repeat altercations involving the same parties.
Teachers and parents should always be notified on what the final outcome of the dialogue was. They should also be notified if there is a postponement of final decision and what procedures will be taken in the meantime.
The dialogue should always end with a clear presentation of the logic behind the given consequence. Whether it is a suspension or an alternative to suspension, an educational leader should have a reason that is culturally congruent and situated within the interest of community safety. The core of school discipline should reflect a concern for the maintenance of high expectations for all students as a philosophical extension of the expectations set by families and the broader community.
As you close, it is always important to remind students that they are welcome at the school as long is they can respect the bodies in it and the purposeful work that is occurring. When I suspended students, I liked to end with “We’ll be happy when you return.”