Eighty percent of schools felt the COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacted students’ socio-emotional and behavioral development, according to the National Center for Education Statistics

The New Jersey Department of Education highlighted that statistic in a recent advisory, observing that students who experience trauma may manifest their reaction through misbehavior or misconduct. Additionally, some students experienced acute traumatic events and continuous grief throughout the pandemic. Historical data from the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights also demonstrates that Black students, boys and students with disabilities experience disproportionate levels of harsher discipline.

The advisory offers suggestions for local educational agencies to consider adjusting discipline practices, as necessary, for the 2023-2024 school year. Each of the approaches below highlights the importance of a positive school culture and climate, which includes building stronger relationships between educators and students.

The advisory highlights the following topics and programs in detail:

Codes of Student Conduct

LEAs are encouraged to review current codes of student conduct policies to consider revisions that discourage the overuse of exclusionary discipline like suspension or expulsion when addressing student misconduct. One of the regulatory requirements is that the code of student conduct include “a description of school responses to violations of behavioral expectations established by the district board of education that, at a minimum, are graded according to the severity of the offenses, and consider the developmental ages of the student offenders and their histories of inappropriate behaviors that shall include a continuum of actions designed to remediate and, where necessary or required by law, to impose sanctions” (N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.1(c)5i).

LEAs are encouraged to implement innovative strategies for increasing family engagement to strengthen the school and family partnership, which can lead to improved student behaviors and improved student performance.

Student Suspensions

Suspensions should be utilized judiciously as suspensions reduce students’ participation in academic and social- emotional learning experiences critical to positive development. However, if an LEA determines that a suspension is the appropriate response to a violation of the code of student conduct, LEAs should be mindful of the requirements to assist students whose social, emotional, or behavioral needs may manifest as misconduct.

Pursuant to P.L.2019, c.479, principals are required to convene a meeting between a student that has experienced multiple suspensions and a school psychologist, school counselor, school social worker, student assistance coordinator, or member of the school’s intervention and referral services team to identify any behavior or health difficulties experienced by the student. As appropriate, LEAs should provide supportive interventions or referrals to school or community resources that may assist the student in addressing identified difficulties.

Guidance on Discrimination in School Discipline

The advisory also includes guidance on discrimination in school discipline and insights on the student safety data system.

Read the full advisory for complete information.

For questions or to be made aware of additional supports available from the NJDOE regarding school climate and culture or student discipline, please email SafeSupportiveSchools@doe.nj.gov.