A school culture that values and welcomes students, staff, and family members is essential for a positive school climate and sets the tone for all behavior. Trauma-informed schools establish a positive climate through clearly-defined and effectively communicated discipline policies.
Student misconduct in the school and classroom is often related to stressful or traumatic events students experience in the surrounding neighborhood, in the community, or in the student's home. Before taking disciplinary action, such as initiating a suspension, the principal or administrator should consider restorative school-based measures, resources, and interventions that address the needs of the student.
School principals must ensure that school discipline policies and expectations for student behavior are clearly and consistently communicated to students, staff, and family members at the beginning of each school year and throughout. Information should be shared directly as well as through social media, paying special attention to newly-enrolled students and their caregivers.
It can be helpful to present school behavior expectations in a student handbook and to ask students and families to sign an agreement indicating that they have received the information. Trauma-exposed individuals benefit from clearly-defined expectations. The more schools can set these policy expectations at the front end, the more secure students, staff, and family members will feel.
The expulsion of a student is the most severe disciplinary action a school district can take in response to student misconduct. Expulsion results in prolonged removal of a student from the regular school program, increasing the risk of academic failure and leading to reduced graduation rates. Schools are often safer than the surrounding communities in which they are located, so suspension/expulsion often leads to poorly-supervised time in the community. This places students at increased risk of victimization and involvement in anti-social or criminal activities and behaviors.
Expulsion should be considered only when the school prinicpal is mandated to recommend it, or when the misbehavior poses a serious safety risk to individuals on campus or during school-sponsored activities.
Many state-wide educational discipline policies strongly recommend using a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), such as Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) or Positive Behavioral Supports (PBS), to set school-wide behavioral expectations and clearly defined alternatives to suspension. According to many state laws, schools must use alternatives to suspension to address problems of truancy, tardiness, and/or other attendance-related issues. Some districts have begun to look into mandating alternatives to suspension for willful defiance.