'Zero' Alternatives

School violence -- learn how to prevent it without sacrificing student's civil rights.

Equitable and effective discipline policies can prevent and deter school violence without sacrificing students' civil rights. It is important to remember that the word discipline comes from the Latin discere, "to learn." For administrators and teachers who want to consider alternative strategies, Russ Skiba, director of the Institute for Child Study at Indiana University, offers the following suggestions.

Collect and analyze data on office referrals and suspensions.
This information can help schools identify students who appear to be headed down a troublesome path, in order to provide support in a timely fashion. Data on referrals and suspensions can also help schools monitor the fairness of disciplinary actions across the socioeconomic and racial spectrum.

Use preventive and instructional strategies to teach students alternatives to violence and disruption.
Preventive strategies such as conflict resolution and peer mediation teach students alternative methods for resolving their differences. Schoolwide bullying prevention programs give students the message that harassment is unacceptable anywhere on school grounds and may help prevent the dangerous rage that sometimes erupts in those students who are the target of bullying. Ongoing staff training in effective classroom management can ensure that all staff understand how to handle minor classroom disruptions and avoid accelerating those into major disciplinary incidents.

Develop procedures for providing support to students at risk for violent behavior.
The entire school community should be aware of the factors that may indicate a risk for violence and have a set of clear responses in place in the event threats of violence arise. Early Warning, Timely Response (see Resources) is an excellent place to start. It is critical that knowledge of early warning signs be used in conjunction with support systems -- consultation, mentoring, counseling, anger management -- to provide help to students who need it, not to profile or target students.

Expand the array of disciplinary options available for responding to behavioral disruptions.
Schools that decrease their use of suspension and expulsion have a variety of options available for responding to disruptions. Teen courts, restitution, anger management, parent contact, individual behavior plans and in-school suspension are just a few of the responses that can teach students that there are consequences for behavior, without removing them from school.