Developing Prevention-Oriented Discipline Codes of Conduct
By Pamela A. Fenning, Ph.D., and Miranda B. Johnson, J.D., M.P.A.*
For many years, significant concerns have been raised about the overuse of exclusionary
discipline (e.g., suspensions and expulsions). Research has shown that out-of-school discipline is
highly likely to be implemented for minor behaviors unrelated to school safety, such as tardies and
truancy.1 Even though exclusionary discipline practices are the most commonly cited discipline
responses in written discipline codes of conduct, there is no evidence that exclusionary discipline
either changes behavior or results in desired behaviors.2 Ironically, there is strong evidence that
suspension and expulsion may actually increase the very behaviors that they are intended to reduce,
as suspension is associated with more, rather than less, future problem behaviors3 and fails to teach
students positive alternative behaviors.4 Schools with higher rates of suspension have more
negative indicators of school climate,5 such as higher observed incidents of teachers yelling at
students.6 Moreover, reliance on coercive practices, including zero tolerance policies, which are
rooted in adults with authority and power having social control over students, inadvertently results
* Pamela A. Fenning, Ph.D., is a professor in the School Psychology Program at Loyola University Chicago School
of Education. Miranda B. Johnson is the associate director of the Education Law and Policy Institute at Loyola
University Chicago School of Law. This paper was originally presented at the 2015 Education Law Association (ELA)
conference held in Cleveland, Ohio from November 4–7, 2015. ELA’s annual conference covers current legal issues
in K–12 and higher education, and attendees include professors, attorneys, and school and university administrators.
This paper and its appendices benefit from the contributions and work product of the current and former members of
the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative (TSDC), an Illinois working group that is developing a model
student code of conduct. In particular, the authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Monica Llorente,
faculty, Northwestern University; Margie Wakelin and Charlie Wysong, Equip for Equality; Candace Moore, Jessica
Schneider and Aditi Singh, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.; Owen Daniel-McCarter,
Jordee Yanez, and Jenine Wehbeh, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance; Sarah Schriber, Prevent School Violence Illinois;
and Donald Sibley, Loyola University Chicago School of Education. Mr. Wysong and Ms. Webeh have changed
employment following their involvement in this project but are listed together with the organizations they represented
at the time of their contributions. Rachel Bonnette, who received her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of
Law in 2015, developed the initial drafts of the disciplinary checklist in Appendix B, and Kathleen Hirsman, faculty
at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, commented on earlier drafts of the model code of conduct. Current
versions of the TSDC documents described in this Article can be found at http://www.transformschooldiscipline.org.
1 DANIEL J. LOSEN & TIA ELENA MARTINEZ, CTR. FOR CIVIL RIGHTS REMEDIES, OUT OF SCHOOL AND OFF TRACK:
THE OVERUSE OF SUSPENSIONS IN AMERICAN MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOLS 1 (2013).
2 Conrad D. Farner, Proactive Alternatives to School Suspension, 5 RECLAIMING CHILD. AND YOUTH: J. EMOTIONAL
& BEHAV. PROBS. 47, 48 (1996); Pamela Fenning et al., Call to Action: A Critical Need for Designing Alternatives to
Suspension and Expulsion, 11 J. SCH. VIOLENCE 105, 105-6 (2012).
3 G.R. Mayer, Preventing Antisocial Behavior in the Schools, 28 J. APPLIED BEHAV. ANALYSIS 467, 472 (1995).
4 Farner, supra note 2, at 48 (finding that a middle school’s change in its discipline practices from a focus on
punishment and suspensions to proactively teaching desired behaviors resulted in reductions in suspension and
discipline problems across several years).
5 Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations, 63 AM.
PSYCHOL. 852, 854 (2008), https://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/zero-tolerance.pdf.
6 Christine Christle, et al., School Characteristics Related to the Use of Suspension, 27 EDUC. AND TREATMENT OF
CHILD. 509, 522 (2004) (studying forty Kentucky middle schools).