Responding To School Discipline

School staff must ensure the safety of all children and address inappropriate behaviour in a fair and respectful manner. Ensuring fairness demands that school staff be aware of their own biases and the ways that these biases may influence their actions when supporting and guiding students and addressing issues with behaviour. As part of its Parent Toolkit, Parents for Diversity has created a fact sheet that explores key terms related to school discipline, parents’ rights, educators’ responsibilities, with tips and guidance about how to respond to issues as they arise. Here are some excerpts from the toolkit that can help parents address issues even at the end of the school year.

Based on guidelines from the Ministry of Education, disciplining children should be a thoughtful process, involving careful reflection of each situation, respecting the dignity of children and implemented within a culture of caring. Parents can expect to be included in the process and be prepared to have conversations about, or question, any disciplinary actions taken by the school that concerns them.

Principals are expected to consider mitigating factors before deciding what actions will be taken to address, support and correct a child’s behavior. One of the mitigating factors that sometimes gets overlooked is that the child may have acted in response to harassment based on race, sexual orientation, faith etc., and whether such harassment happened repeatedly throughout the school year leading to a crisis point or whether it was confined to a particular situation. It is important for a parent to raise this question when discussing an incident with the school. Also, if there have been difficulties throughout the school year, you should know that as a parent you have a right to review your child’s Ontario Student Record (OSR) and that all suspensions can be appealed within a specific time period. You can also request that a suspension letter be removed from your child’s OSR at the end of the school year.

Tips for Advocating in the School
– Take the initiative in communication: setting the tone, setting expectations, encouraging regular exchanges with the school-based team (e.g., teacher, principal).
– Introduce yourself and your child personally early in the school year (e.g., by email, phone call, or the first parent-teacher meeting).
– Let the school personnel know how much you value your child’s education and share your expectations of your child in terms of behaviour and academics and your commitment to productive communication and cooperative partnership with the teacher. This will increase the chances that small problems and misunderstandings won’t be overblown and that the teacher will reach out to you first for help resolving issues that may arise with your child, rather than moving to disciplining them.
– If issues of concern arise, remember that you can take anyone to meetings with the school for support, note-taking, or information sharing (i.e., a parent advocate, friend, social worker, etc.).
– Be sure to document all conversations with the school whenever there is a discipline concern.

You play an important role in helping your child build healthy self-concepts, and self-regulation skills. Talk to your child about school, feelings about teachers and classmates, and stressors, and then encourage your child to express and label feelings at home so they can advocate for themselves at school. Most importantly, help your child identify and focus on their strengths, so they will have the confidence to build on those when facing a challenge at school.

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