Order is essential to providing a thorough and efficient education, whether that instruction is in-person or remote, and discipline is a necessary tool for maintaining order. Discipline also helps ensure a safe educational atmosphere and create an environment that is conducive to learning.

Discipline and order also need to evolve to accommodate today’s emphasis on equity, a positive school climate and a culture of respect in the school. When discipline is well structured, applied consistently, and focused on educating students about appropriate and civil social behavior, it promotes equity and contributes to a positive school climate.

Through policy and regulation development, policy oversight and the judicious conduct of due process hearings, the board plays a key role in maintaining rules of order that protect the rights of children and create a culture of respect in school. A fair and consistently applied policy-driven structure that defines acceptable behavior, details consequences for violating the rules, and affords the right for students to be heard prevents discrimination, promotes equity and preserves the rights of each student.

Code of Student Conduct Through policy, the board can communicate expectations regarding student conduct and behavior. The NJSBA model policy 5131, Conduct and Discipline, states “The board of education expects students to conduct themselves in keeping with their level of maturity, with a proper regard for the rights and welfare of other students, for school personnel, for the educational purpose underlying all school activities, and for the care of school facilities and equipment. Students are required to conform to reasonable standards of socially acceptable behavior; respect the person, property and rights of others; obey constituted authority and respond to those who hold that authority.”

The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) requires each district and charter school to develop and annually review a code of student conduct (N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.1(c)3). The purpose of the code of student conduct is to:

  • Foster the health, safety, and social and emotional well-being of students.
  • Support the establishment and maintenance of civil, safe, secure, supportive and disciplined school environments conducive to learning.
  • Promote achievement of high academic standards.
  • Prevent the occurrence of problem behaviors.
  • Establish parameters for the intervention and remediation of problem student behaviors at all stages of identification; and
  • Establish parameters for school responses to violations of the code of student conduct that take into account, at a minimum, the severity of offenses, the developmental ages of student offenders and students’ histories of inappropriate behaviors in accordance with N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.2 through 7.8, as appropriate (N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.1(b)).

The code of student conduct is also required to include a description of the students’ rights, including:

  • Advance notice of behaviors that will result in suspensions or expulsions;
  • Education that supports student development into productive citizens.
  • Attendance in a safe and secure school environment.
  • Attendance in school irrespective of marriage, pregnancy, or parenthood.
  • Due process and appeal procedures.
  • Parent notifications for law enforcement interviews, short-term and long-term suspension due process and appeal procedures, and attendance.
  • Privacy protections as per federal and state laws regarding participation in research, experimental and testing programs; the transfer of school disciplinary records; confidentiality of student alcohol and other drug information; pupil records, creation, maintenance and retention, security and access; and other protections required by federal and state laws and rules.

In addition, each district and school code of student conduct is required to contain a description of student responsibilities and behavioral expectation, as well as define graduated disciplinary responses to code of conduct violations. Graduated disciplinary responses make the consequences appropriate to the age of the student and the severity, frequency and seriousness of the behavioral infractions.

Districts and charter schools must provide remediation and behavioral supports to help students comply with school behavioral expectations. When students have repeated disciplinary violations, supportive planning enables students to improve their ability to select alternative ways to more effectively deal with their difficulty. While discipline is punitive, remedial measures address educating the student to improve behavior.

The board must also establish a process for the annual review and update of the code of student conduct. Oversight of the code of student conduct may include requiring the chief school administrator to make periodic reports and evaluating the results of the biannual Student Safety Data System (, which documents district data on violent offenses, substance abuse and harassment, intimidation and bullying.

Classified Students The code of student conduct applies to all students. In the case of classified students with individualized education programs, discipline may be administered according to the code of student conduct when the behavioral infraction is not a manifestation of the disability. A student may be classified for difficulties that include behavioral problems. When the behavioral infraction is a manifestation of the disability, the behavioral guidelines detailed in the IEP impact the discipline.

When a classified student is suspended for up to 10 days (short-term suspension), in addition to the due process rights for the student, written notification and a description of the reasons for the suspension must be forwarded to the case manager and the student’s parents/guardians (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.8). If the student is removed for five or more school days, the case manager and teacher are responsible for determining the educational services ensure progress in the student’s education program and IEP.

Suspensions of more than 10 consecutive or cumulative days (long-term suspension) are considered a change of placement and require an IEP review. The review, or “manifestation determination,” is conducted to determine whether the conduct was caused by or had a direct and substantial relationship to the child’s disability; and/or whether the conduct was the direct result of failure to implement the IEP.

If a manifestation is found, revisions to the IEP may be considered and an intervention plan implemented. The child must be returned to school unless the parent agrees to a change in placement as part of the behavioral intervention plan.

Where the IEP team determines that the student’s conduct was not a manifestation of the student’s disability, the student is entitled to the due process protections afforded general education students.

In summary, discipline, up to and including suspension and expulsion for classified students, is considered with regard to the unique educational arrangements of the IEP. The law recognizes that disciplinary issues may be related to the nature of the disability and therefore integral to the student’s individualized education program. In addition, the continuity of the student’s educational program is safeguarded with the provision of educational services after a removal of five or more days.

Remote Classrooms When classes were being held remotely at the start of the pandemic, NJSBA had many inquiries about how to maintain order and discipline. The code of student conduct is in effect when school is in session whether it is a remote classroom or in-person school. However, teachers and administrators were finding that not all the consequences in the code of student conduct for behavioral infractions could be practically administered in the remote environment. For example, in the remote environment, students were frequently tardy, absent or in violation of the official dress code. On occasion, more serious infractions were observed, such as behavior suggesting that a student may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

For more minor offenses like dress code violations or eating during class, districts reported relying on communications with parents/guardians to correct the issue. Districts also reported assigning written work as a corrective action. NJSBA developed policies 4119.27/4219.27 Code of Conduct Remote Teaching – Online Classroom Participation that address appropriate online conduct for staff and students.

The observation of behavior suggesting that a student may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol requires the district to follow all the protocols in law and board policy 5131.6 Substance Abuse, including the requirement that the student be examined by a doctor and tested for drugs and alcohol. When child abuse or neglect is suspected, the district may need to contact the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (see Critical Policy 5141.4 Missing, Abused and Neglected Children).

Suspension and Expulsion Short- and long-term suspension and expulsion are among the most serious disciplinary consequences administered to a student. The law lists the disruptive behaviors for which a board is permitted to remove a student from school, including (but not limited to) defiance of the authority, presenting a danger to others, theft and bullying (see Critical Policy 5114 Suspension and Expulsion, and N.J.S.A. 18A:37-2). The offenses listed in the law describe the more serious infractions for which suspension and expulsion are appropriate. The law lists behaviors for which the board may suspend a student, but there are four reasons that require a student be removed from the school (temporarily or permanently):

  • Assault against board member, school personnel or student;
  • Assault against board member, school personnel or student with a weapon;
  • Gun possession on school property, on a school bus or at a school function; and
  • Conviction of possession of a gun or a crime involving a gun off school property.

Removal of a student from the educational program does not release the board from its responsibility of providing a free public education for the student. When a student is removed from the educational program, alternative educational arrangements must be made.

Due Process Not all disciplinary appeals require a board hearing. The board may determine, through a review of a disciplinary appeal and the documented actions taken by the teacher and administration, that the student received the appropriate consequences and that the administration effectively implemented the code of student conduct. In such a case, the board may render a decision that a hearing is unnecessary. In all cases, whether or not a board hearing is conducted, the decision of the board should be documented in writing to the complainant.

The board is required by law to conduct a board hearing when a hearing is requested by the parent/guardian in instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying, and behavioral violations that result in long-term suspension or expulsion.

Any violation of the code of student conduct that results in the suspension or expulsion of a student requires the board to ensure that students receive due process for compliance with the law (N.J.A.C. 6A:7-2 through -4).

In the case of short-term suspension for one to 10 consecutive days, due process means that the principal or designee must conduct an informal hearing (inform the student of the charges, give the student a chance to respond and provide notice to parents/guardians of the suspension).

For a long-term suspension of more than 10 consecutive days, a student is entitled to all the due process for a short-term suspension as well as written notification to parents/guardians. The notification must include a description of the charges and the facts on which the charges are based and an explanation of the student’s due process rights.

The student must be given the opportunity to have a board hearing. If a board hearing is requested, the board is required to hold the hearing not later than the second regular meeting of the board following the suspension. The student has the right to present a defense; present witnesses and/or signed statements by witnesses; and face and question school witnesses.

The board shall make a decision within five days of the close of the hearing. Any appeal of the board’s decision shall be made to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education within 90 days of the board’s decision.

Home Instruction To provide uninterrupted education for pupils unable to attend their regular classes because of illness, disability, court order or administrative action, the board of education must provide away-from-school instruction. The instruction must be provided no later than five school days after the student has left the general education program for reasons other than a temporary or chronic health condition (court order or administrative actions such as long-term suspension or expulsion).

The district is required to plan and monitor the home or away-from-school instruction, ensure it is provided by appropriately certified staff and see that it meets the New Jersey Student Learning Standards (N.J.A.C. 6A:16-10.1 et seq.; see Critical Policy 6173 Home Instruction).

The district is responsible for the costs of providing instruction in the home or away-from-school setting, either directly through online services, including any needed equipment, or through contract with another district board of education, educational services commission, jointure commission, or approved clinic or agency.

When a student cannot be safely returned to school, the board is required to approve an alternate education program (see Critical Policy 6172 Alternative Education Program).

The legal requirements concerning student discipline are complex. Boards should consult with the board attorney on policy development and the circumstances of specific cases where policies have been violated.

It is an important role of school leaders to ensure that order and discipline are administered in the schools so that students are afforded an equitable educational environment, a positive school climate, and a culture of respect that values the rights and dignity of children.

Boards of education must develop clear policy, see that the policy is implemented fairly and, when necessary, provide an impartial forum for disputes to be recognized and heard.

For model and sample board policies, contact NJSBA’s policy services unit.

Jean Harkness is an NJSBA policy consultant.