Trends and Patterns of Disciplinary Actions and Handling of Pupil Harassment
The number of students expelled from Wisconsin schools has more than tripled between 1996 and 2001. The number of students suspended has risen 34 percent. Data shows that African American students are suspended at a higher rate and for a longer period of time than any other group. Data also indicates that male students are much more likely to be expelled than are female students1.
This section asks the district to identify and evaluate the trends and patterns of disciplinary actions, which includes suspensions and expulsions, within its own district. In examining these trends, the district should consider whether discipline is imposed disproportionately by race, sex, national origin or disability. Districts should also examine school-based information to see if trends and patterns vary across the district. Data from at least the past three school years should be analyzed in order to accurately access or determine any patterns or trends, and the department suggests that a 5% disparity be considered significant. In Cycle I, a number of districts planned to establish a recording system. This is a good time to compare the records over time, using the system established in Cycle I. However, as a reminder, the department does not recommend that numerical data be disaggregated on the basis of the other protected classes.
Factors that might be contributing to the trends should also be identified. Questions that may be asked include whether consequences are identical for the same infraction, whether uniform policies and procedures regarding discipline exist, whether building staff are aware of the policies and procedures, and whether information concerning the disciplinary rules and policies is effectively conveyed to students, parents and guardians.
This section also requires the district to evaluate the methods used to respond to and prevent pupil harassment. Districts are not required to have separate anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures under Wisconsin's pupil nondiscrimination law. However, the district should consider whether its nondiscrimination policies clearly prohibit harassment based on sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability.
In evaluating this area, the process used in investigating complaints of harassment should be reviewed. Is the investigation kept as confidential as possible? Are there guidelines and procedures in place so that a student is aware of the complaint process, and is comfortable in bringing such a complaint? Finally, districts should consider how staff members respond to incidents of harassment. Are staff members able to recognize harassment? Are such incidents promptly and effectively addressed? Do students who violate the policies receive appropriate discipline? How do the curriculum or safe schools initiatives contribute to preventing or neutralizing such behavior?
For more information on what constitutes harassment and how to prevent it, see Pupil Nondiscrimination Guidelines: Understanding Pupil Harassment at http://sped.dpi.wi.gov/sped_bul99-03. For information on discipline with regard to special education, see Special Education in Plain Language at http://www.specialed.us/pl-07/pl07-index.html. For information on suspension and expulsion laws, see Answers to Frequently Asked Attendance Questions, available from the Department of Public Instruction.
By evaluating this area, school districts will have the opportunity to:
- Ensure that disciplinary measures are understood and imposed fairly and consistently.
- Ensure that incidents of harassment are prevented, recognized and effectively addressed.
- Identify and develop ways to create and sustain a safe and respectful school environment for all students.
- What are the district's procedures, rules or guidelines regarding the imposition of discipline, including the imposition of suspension or detention? How are these procedures, rules or guidelines communicated to staff, parents, and students? Are they translated and provided in other languages in addition to English? Are they available in Braille or audio versions?
- Review all expulsions and suspension records for at least the past three years. Identify trends and patterns.
- Are suspensions or expulsions imposed disproportionately by race, sex, national origin, or disability?
- Is the average length of suspension or expulsion longer for some groups?
- Are out-of-school suspensions imposed more frequently on some groups?
- Do some groups receive more in-school suspensions?
- Review other types of disciplinary actions for at least the past three years.
- Are disciplinary measures imposed disproportionately by race, sex, national origin, or disability?
- Do certain groups tend to receive more severe disciplinary actions than other groups?
- Is there a relationship between disciplinary actions and level of achievement?
- In answering the following questions, review the form or formats used to report offenses or disciplinary action.
- Do all teachers use the same form or format to report offenses or disciplinary action?
- What record system is used?
- For each incident, is the type of infraction, type of discipline imposed, and the protected class of each student involved reported?
- Identify any steps that will be taken to better evaluate the trends and patterns of disciplinary actions.
- Are the same or similar infractions treated alike?
- What efforts do the district and individual schools undertake in order to ensure that discipline is imposed equitably and consistently?
- What alternative educational opportunities are provided for children in the district? What alternative educational opportunities are provided for those who are expelled? Do expelled students return to schools, and, do they graduate?
- What factors might contribute to the trends and pattern of disciplinary actions? Are the patterns a result of differing treatment, expectations, or opportunities between students? Does the school environment make some students feel unwelcome, who, in turn, may act out?
Prevention of Harassment:
- In responding to the following questions, review the district's nondiscrimination policies
- Do the school district's policies specifically prohibit pupil harassment?
- Do the policies provide examples of pupil harassment?
- Do the policies clearly define pupil harassment?
- Do the policies explain the consequences for engaging in the prohibited conduct?
- Do the policies explain how to file a complaint?
- Do the policies prohibit retaliation against those filing a complaint?
- Do the policies provide assurance that complaints will be handled as confidentially as possible?
- Are the policies published in student and staff handbooks?
- Are the policies explained in non-technical and age-appropriate language?
- Are the policies provided in languages other than English? Are they available in Braille, video or audio versions?
- Describe the district's guidelines, policies or procedures for investigating and resolving pupil harassment complaints. Are the rights of all parties protected? Does the procedure provide for an impartial investigation? Have resolutions been effective and timely?
- Does the district's complaint process operate effectively in preventing future incidents of harassment? How could it be improved?
- Are all complaints of pupil harassment treated identically? If so, describe the process. If not, discuss under what circumstances they may be treated differently? Do students report that complaints of harassment are not taken seriously or ignored?
- Do students, parents, teachers or administrators believe that harassment is a problem within the school, at school-sponsored activities, or on the bus?
- Describe any procedures or guidelines that a staff member must follow when he or she witnesses pupil harassment.
- Discuss any staff development, training program, or other efforts intended to help staff recognize and respond to pupil harassment.
- Is information about harassment and its prevention a part of the K-12 curriculum? What curricular materials or educational programs are used? Is harassment a part of the safe schools or citizenship initiative?
- Does the district have, as part of its school safety plan, a process for dealing with crises involving assault and abuse?
- Describe any other forums, orientation programs, activities, et cetera, which are used to address harassment.
- What are your recommendations for improvement? How will these recommendations be implemented?
Prepare a summary of the status of pupil nondiscrimination and equality of educational opportunity with regard to the trends and patterns of disciplinary actions, including suspensions, expulsions, and handling of pupil harassment. Include in the summary your findings, analysis, supporting data or information, and recommendations for improvement. Also include information on how your recommendations might be implemented. Include this summary as part of your report.
1 Education at a Glance, Vol. I, Nos. 1-2 (April 1999).