Sunday, February 21, 2016

How One Middle School Cut Discipline Referrals By 98 Percent in Just One Year

By Sabrina Holcomb
Feb. 17,2016

Every student deserves to learn—and every educator deserves to teach in a safe school. But zero tolerance school discipline policies, which were supposed to make schools safer, have done more harm than good, pushing kids out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at unprecedented rates.

Add to the mix overburdened educators, cuts to school counseling programs, and police (often referred to as school resource officers), and you’ve got the makings of . . . well . . . a school-to-prison pipeline.


Across the country, school suspensions and expulsions, referrals to alternative schools and law enforcement, and school-based arrests have increased, blurring the line between the education and criminal justice systems.

Despite the systemic obstacles that have hampered progress nationwide, many educators and their schools are leading the way in adopting more positive, less exclusionary disciplinary practices.

Meet Lynn Harrison of Redland Middle School in Montgomery County. MD. You know you’re onto something good when your school goes from referring over 1200 students to the principal’s office to under 30 in just one year. “As a staff we were thrilled at the respect that was growing in our building,” says Harrison, coordinator of Redland’s Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS) program.

The PBIS process emphasizes constructive interventions as an alternative to punitive discipline. Redland, a bright, airy middle school with students who look like they’re happy to be there, has won an award for its efforts every year since starting the program in 2009. Equally impressive, Redland’s referral rates broken down by student ethnicity are pretty evenly distributed among White, Black, and Hispanic students—unlike some schools that improve their overall numbers but still show disproportionate referral and suspension rates for students of color.


How did they do it? How did Redland reverse the numbers and revitalize the overall school climate? By responding to the unique needs of middle schoolers, says assistant principal Shenice Brevard. “Not only are middle school students different from elementary and high school students because of the physiological changes that occur during their middle school years,” explains Brevard, “they’re highly influenced by peers and media and these distractions can lend themselves to more disruptions in the school environment.”

To get a handle on the situation, Redland focused on setting expectations, building relationships, and engaging students. Harrison and Brevard share the award-winning strategies that have made the school a PBIS star. (To learn more about strategies for keeping kids in the classroom and out of the courtroom, view and download NEA EdJustice: Freeing Schools from the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Tools To Use

Implement school wide expectations and teach positive behaviors. •••••

Employ peer mediators. •••••

Have fun with creative rewards. •••••

Match students with mentors. •••••

Get student input on behavior contracts. •••••

Teach social and emotional skills. •••••

Work through minor incidents. •••••

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