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  • Writer's pictureAuthor T.D. McLaughlin Talks

Modernizing School Discipline (Op-Ed)

In recent years, there has been growing concern over the disciplinary measures taken against school-age children, with many parents and community leaders criticizing the perceived harshness of new policies. The question arises: are school administrators truly equipped to issue discipline, or should there be an independent arbitrator to ensure fairness and impartiality in the process?


One of the key issues surrounding school discipline is the human element involved in decision-making. Administrators, including principals and assistant principals, may be influenced by personal biases, ego, or bravado, impacting the level of discipline meted out to students. In contrast to the checks and balances in government and the judicial system, where circumstances, prior charges, and witnesses are considered, school disciplinary policies often lack nuance and room for interpretation.


The implementation of blanket disciplinary policies in schools has raised concerns about their inflexibility. Unlike the judicial system, which differentiates between various degrees of offenses, schools often employ one-size-fits-all approaches. This rigidity fails to consider the unique circumstances surrounding each case, leading to a system that may not be conducive to the well-being and development of students.


Modern challenges, such as cyberbullying, bullying, and harassment, require a nuanced approach that many school administrators may not be adequately equipped to provide. These issues are often subjective and demand a level of expertise that may be beyond the scope of typical school disciplinary measures. Just as in corporate America, where independent arbitrators are brought in to handle disputes, a similar approach may be beneficial in the education system.


In corporate settings, independent arbitrators play a crucial role in resolving disputes between employees and employers. They bring impartiality, expertise, and a fresh perspective to the table. Adopting a similar model in schools could involve creating an independent department or hiring specialists to handle disciplinary matters, particularly those involving complex interpersonal issues.


Benefits of Independent Adjudication in Schools

Impartiality: Independent arbitrators can provide a level of impartiality that may be challenging for school administrators with established relationships within the school community.

Expertise: Specialized departments or individuals with expertise in areas like cyberbullying and harassment can ensure that decisions are informed and well-grounded.

Flexibility: A system with independent adjudicators allows for flexibility, enabling a case-by-case examination and consideration of unique circumstances.

Reduced Risk of Bias: External arbitrators are less susceptible to biases and pressures that may influence decisions within the school setting.


In the face of evolving challenges in the educational landscape, it may be time to reevaluate how discipline is handled in schools. The introduction of independent arbitrators or specialized departments could provide a more nuanced, fair, and effective approach to disciplinary matters. By embracing modern principles of justice and fairness, schools can better support the well-being and development of their students, ensuring that disciplinary actions contribute positively to their educational experience rather than hinder it.

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