- Florida's Brevard Public Schools highlights the pandemic's impact on school discipline, with new rules related to coronavirus safety protocols accounting for about 11% of incidents — including wearing masks incorrectly and a dress code violation — between late August and mid-September, according to The Hechinger Report.
- Teachers are finding it's more difficult to redirect students in the classroom due to social distancing requirements, such as requiring teachers to remain in front of the room rather than circulate. Teaching social skills is also more challenging with fewer opportunities to interact and socialize.
- Remote teachers also struggle to figure out the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not. There have been instances of students being suspended over the visibility of toy guns in virtual streams, for example, but some educators are choosing to be flexible and encourage positive behavior instead of penalizing students for infractions.
The constraints of the pandemic are forcing education leaders to rethink school disciplinary practices and how they're applied in practice.
Illinois' Transforming School Discipline Collaborative last year issued a report on rethinking discipline in remote and blended learning developed by attorneys, educators and youth. The document highlights the opportunity presented by the public health crisis to change policies and practices rather than returning to punitive approaches as "normal."
For example, the report urges schools to recognize the individual experiences of students, families, educators and staff during the pandemic, adopt restorative practices to address conflict and harm, and implement practices to support educators and staff as they heal from trauma. It also suggests schools work to greatly reduce or eliminate exclusionary discipline during this time and revise policies to focus on restorative rather than punitive practices.
For now, remote teachers are resorting to tactics like muting microphones and turning off students’ cameras when they begin acting up in a virtual classroom. They also are focusing more on social awareness by checking in with students to be sure their emotional needs are met. In some cases, the remote environment has increased collaboration between teachers and parents.
Moving forward, the idea is to keep more students in the classroom rather than suspend them. In the 2015-16 school year, the American Civil Liberties Union reported 66 million hours of total instruction were lost to out-of-school suspensions, with Black students and students with disabilities disproportionately impacted.
At the federal level, there is early indication that education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona will work to reduce exclusionary disciplinary practices. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) suggested Cardona would be given an executive order on discipline policies that would push for more discipline data collection from schools. Amid the nation's ongoing reckoning with systemic racism following last year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the police-involved deaths of Black Americans, there's also pressure for Cardona to look into how police are used in schools.