What are the alternatives to suspension
and expulsion in promoting school safety and reducing student disruption?
Despite widespread implementation in response to fears about
school violence, there is little data that punitive zero tolerance policies
have had a significant effect on improving school safety or student behavior.
To identify more effective alternatives, nationally recognized researchers
in the field of school violence have begun to look at what works and what
doesn't in deterring school violence. Consistently, programs that effectively
cut violence are proactive rather than reactive; involve families, students
and the community; and include multiple components that can effectively
address the complexity of school disruption and violence1.
Indeed, preventive programs, such as bullying prevention, peer mediation,
or anger management, have far more data available to support their effectiveness
than do technology-based fixes such as metal detectors or video surveillance
Comprehensive prevention can be highly effective in a surprisingly
short period of time. In one inner-city school with rates of dropout approaching
70%-80% among minority youth, consultants worked with teachers, helping
them increase their rates of praise and reframe classroom rules to be
more positive. In one year, school suspensions dropped by 35%, and over
the course of the three-year project, school dropout decreased by almost
Recently, a comprehensive model of preventive discipline
has begun to emerge as the model most likely to successfully address the
complexity of emotional and behavioral problems in schools4.
The approach, grounded in the belief that there is no single solution
to school violence, prescribes intervention at three levels:
I. Creating a Safe and Responsive School Climate.
To some degree all students require instruction in appropriate methods
of solving problems. At the level of school climate, preventive programs
such as bullying prevention and conflict resolution teach all students
alternatives to violence for resolving conflict.
II. Early Identification and Intervention.
The tragic school shootings of the last three years have highlighted
the importance of attending to early warning signs of violence. When
used to provide help rather than to profile, early identification is
a critical component of school violence prevention.
III. Effective Responses to Disruption and Crisis.
School violence prevention demands that we be prepared for the eventuality
of violence. Schools that are safe and responsive have plans and procedures
in place to deal with violent and disruptive behaviors that may occur.
Over-reliance on suspension and expulsion is replaced by an extensive
array of options that can be matched to the severity of the offense.
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What are the assumptions of
school violence prevention?
This data on the relationship between "minor" discipline
and incivility and serious violence provides the basis for one of the
core assumptions of the Safe and Responsive Schools Project. Since day-to-day
disruption and serious violence are in some way related, our nation's
schools must do all they can on a day-to-day basis to reduce the risk
that minor incidents and disruptions will escalate into serious, life-threatening
violence. In particular, the approach rests upon three assumptions or
Violence is Preventable.
Serious and dramatic incidents of violence seem frighteningly unpredictable,
raising concerns about whether violence is indeed preventable. But prevention
can make a difference. As an analogy, it is impossible to predict with
certainty who will develop lung cancer, but on average, quitting smoking
dramatically reduces the risk of lung cancer. In the same way, there
is no guarantee that schools with the most comprehensive programs will
be free of violence. But on average, schools that implement more components
of violence prevention will see fewer incidents of disruption, and probably
lower their chances of serious violence.
There is No Single Quick-Fix.
In the wake of the Columbine tragedy, some schools in Indiana and around
the nation have turned to metal detectors, or tough zero tolerance suspensions
and expulsions, in the hope that a single strategy can protect schools
from violence. Unfortunately, there is little or no data that any single
strategy can keep our schools safe. Rather, the most effective programs
are comprehensive, applying an array of strategies to promote a safe
school climate and respond to disruption.
Effective Prevention Requires Ongoing Planning and Commitment.
School shootings throughout the country have provided a striking reminder
that "it can happen here." There can be no room for complacency in maintaining
the safety of our schools. Rather, effective programs promoting school
safety requires ongoing planning, commitment, and collaboration on the
part of school staff, parents, and community members. If it takes a
whole village to raise a child, it takes a commitment on the part of
all villagers to planned coordination to ensure the safety of that child.
To the top
- Elliot, D. S., Hamburg, B. A., & Williams, K.
R. (1998). Violence in American schools: A new perspective. New
York: Cambridge University Press. Gottfredson, D. (1997). School-based
crime prevention. In L. Sherman, D. Gottfredson, D. MacKenzie, J. Eck,
P. Ruter, & S. Bushway (Eds.), Preventing crime: What works,
what doesn't, what's promising: A report to the United States Congress
(pp. 1-74). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
- Skiba, R. J., & Peterson, R. (1999). The dark
side of zero-tolerance: Can punishment lead to safe schools? Phi
Delta Kappan, 80(5), 372-382.
- Meyer, G. R., Mitchell, L. K., & Clement-Robertson,
E. (1993). A dropout prevention program for at-risk high school students:
Emphasizing consulting to promote positive climates. Education and
Treatment of Children, 16, 135-146.
- American Psychological Association (1993). Violence
and youth: Psychology's response. Washington, D.C.: Author. Dwyer,
K., Osher, D., & Warger, C. (1998). Early warning, timely response:
A guide to safe schools. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
Walker, H. M., Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., Bullis, M., Sprague, J. R.,
Bricker, D., & Kaufman, M. J. (1996). Integrated approaches to preventing
antisocial behavior patterns among school-age children and youth. Journal
of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 4(4), 194-209.
See other topics under Understanding School Violence:
Last updated: November 15, 2000
Copyright 2000, The Trustees of Indiana University