Engaging Schools continues to support school districts across the country to reduce the use, overuse, and disproportional use of punishment and exclusion, and maximize supports and opportunities for all students. As part of this work, we are partnering with a growing number of school districts to revise (or create) their codes of conduct, which we have expanded to be called codes of character, conduct, and support.
Revising a code is a key step in shifting to a more restorative, equitable, and accountable approach to schoolwide discipline. A code of character, conduct, and support articulates a vision, provides a framework, and serves as a catalyst for change in a school district. In the Syracuse City School District, where we collaborated on the development of a new code in 2014, and on implementation of that code since then, the change in policies and practices has resulted in a significant decrease in suspension rates and referrals out of classrooms. In most districts, students of color, especially African-American students, along with special education students are disciplined at much higher rates than their peers. Syracuse has succeeded in significantly reducing this disproportional discipline.
A good code helps to achieve equity. It aims to ensure the rights and access of all students to an education in a safe, civil, caring, and supportive learning environment. It guides schools to help young people develop the social, emotional, and academic competencies they need to succeed. This kind of code addresses character development, recognizing that character shapes conduct, and fosters good citizenship. It aims to help adults and young people understand how schools are public places that have cultural norms and must balance individual rights with the civic responsibilities that make it possible to live in a free, open, and democratic society.
Codes articulate core beliefs that serve as touchstones for schools and individual staff members, especially when supporting students to re-think and change behavior is frustrating and challenging. Two beliefs that we find particularly important to build collective commitment around are:
1) All students are capable of achieving their personal best, and, when necessary, improving their behavior with guidance, instruction, support, and coaching.
2) Different students need different kinds and amounts of time, attention, instruction, and support to behave responsibly and succeed academically.
An effectively written code of character, conduct, and support becomes a strategic resource for many stakeholders to responsibly do their jobs in service of their students and the community at large.