Just when you thought children were safe from the threat of expulsion, schools have found new reasons to expel or suspend a student, even if the student is learning at home remotely. In one case, in Louisiana, a nine-year-old was at home, learning remotely. The teacher saw an unloaded BB gun in the student’s room. This led to the threat of an expulsion. The expulsion was reduced to a six – day suspension at a hearing. There have been several other similar cases throughout the country, involving toy guns. These cases are warnings to parents to beware of what teachers can see in the background when children log into a computer. If the computer is in a living room, what is in back of the child? If the computer is on the kitchen table, are knives present? What if alcohol is present? Can the child eat during class? What toys are visible if the computer is in the child’s bedroom? How are issues of cheating during an in-home test addressed? There are many unanswered questions as schools and students struggle to adjust to a new world.
Many children have had a difficult time adjusting to the on- line environment. Their education has already suffered. Exclusionary disciplinary policies exacerbate the isolation children are already feeling. During remote learning, they may not pay attention or may become distracted by other objects in the room. This can lead to school discipline. The line between what happens at home and what happens in school has become blurred. What about in-school suspension? What does that look like in a COVID world?
The Connecticut State Department of Education has prepared guidance for school districts, “Addendum 10.” This guidance encourages schools to set clear expectations and to consider how existing policies will be addressed in the environment of remote learning. The guidance does not prohibit suspensions or expulsions arising out of behavior during a remote learning session. The entire guidance is below:
Reframing and Reopening: School Discipline
Amidst COVID-19 Guidance
August 27, 2020
This is a working document, which may be updated frequently due to the rapidly changing response
to this pandemic emergency and ongoing Federal guidance updates.
The Connecticut Department of Education (CSDE) published its reopening document, Adapt, Advance,
Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together to provide local and regional boards of
education and other similarly situated school operators (referred to herein as “school districts”) with
a framework for school reopening during the 2020-2021 school year in the context of the COVID-19
pandemic. That framework included guidance on school discipline policies.
This document outlines additional guidance that school districts may rely on regarding discipline.
Communication will continue to be a key component as school leaders, educators, and families move
forward during the 2020–2021 school year. School districts should develop approaches to discipline
that consider educator input and avoid setting unreasonable expectations for staff or students/families.
Reframing School Discipline Amidst COVID-19
These are unprecedented times, and it hard to gauge the psychological and physical impact on
students, especially when it comes to societal disparities. The term discipline is from the Latin word
“disciplina,” which means teaching and learning. Students learn best through relationships that make
them feel safe and nurtured and support positive psycho-social behavioral outcomes. Prioritizing
supports for students’ social-emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs is vital for the return
to school amidst COVID-19. Some students will have experienced grief and loss, sickness, amplified
challenging or traumatic experiences in the home, inequities with access to learning and resources,
and the uncertainty of these times. Schools should emphasize the need for positivity, empathy,
reassurance, routines, flexibility, supports, and a referral process for the return back to school. These
considerations will vary depending on learning conditions: in-person, hybrid, or remote learning.
Schools should meet the needs of students by examining the factors that impact behavior as well as the
relationship between environment and behavior. This includes effective strategies to teach and support
students and respond to behavioral concerns in a similar manner to academic concerns (i.e., increasing
instruction and support when the issues occur). Exclusionary practices may sometimes be necessary for
protecting students against imminent safety risks or when such action is required by state or federal law,
such as Connecticut General Statutes (C.G.S.) Sections 10-233c and 233d, but these practices should
be balanced with the other proportionate consequences that may better serve the social-emotional
development of students and also result in a positive outcome or resolution. Districts and schools can
incorporate a range of strategies to promote a positive school climate, address misconduct, and foster
student safety in lieu of ineffective and potentially discriminatory exclusionary practices.
Source: State Board of Education Position Statement on Reducing Disproportionality in Suspensions
and Expulsions (Exclusionary Discipline), 2018
Addendum 10: Reframing and Reopening: School Discipline Amidst COVID-19 Guidance 2
The Upsurge of Behavioral Health Issues
Behavioral health experts are predicting an increase in anxiety, stress, and behavioral issues. Many
students, families, and staff will need additional support mechanisms in the school, for development of
positive coping strategies. Students may return with inconsistent behaviors, and expectations should
be revisited and retaught in the context of this historic disruption of the educational system. Stressors
may be intensified among our vulnerable and marginalized student populations. Below are some
important considerations for the upcoming school year.
Relationship Building and Recognizing Behaviors
Developing a trusting relationship between families, students, and educators is vital to improving
student emotional wellness. Always check in with every student, when students are not in the school
building consistently (i.e., hybrid and remote learning situations). Continue with regular and expected
routines, and remind students of general classroom expectations as well as new requirements due
to COVID-19 in a way that is developmentally appropriate and accessible. Ensure that students
are physically and emotionally safe and explain the expectations and the consequences for not
following the rules to students and families regarding new policies (e.g., masks and social distancing).
Communicate with families to get information about how the student has been doing academically
and emotionally. Be alert to students who are not regularly communicating with teachers and staff, are
withdrawn, or otherwise not engaging with school.
Work with the school support team and community to try to make and maintain continuous contact.
Recognize significant changes in mood, behavior, weight, tiredness, engagement, attendance, and
academic performance. Look at the behavior from a trauma-informed and restorative lens to avoid punitive
discipline such as suspension or expulsion that excludes students from the learning environment,
except for severe cases. Be alert to bullying, racism, and mean spirited or other inappropriate behavior
toward students. Consider that this may include prejudices toward students who are Asian about the
perceived origin of the virus. Communicate a plan to address any such behavior swiftly. Be aware of
the institutionalized structures that impact a student’s experience and opportunities in society. Utilize a
universal screener to assess a student’s emotional wellness when they return.
Implementation Tips for Limiting School Discipline Measures
Code of Conduct
Revisit the Code of Conduct and include non-exclusionary options for discipline (e.g., Positive Behavioral
Interventions, restorative approaches, school, and community-based referral process for behavioral
and mental health services). Consider whether revisions to the Code of Conduct may be necessary
to address the challenges of remote learning, such as behavioral expectations during synchronous
lessons, or how certain rules apply in the remote setting, such as the rules around cheating/plagiarism.
Advise staff, families and students that students must follow all the Code of Conduct guidelines regardless
of the learning environment. Implement an approach that is consistent with the CSDE Position
Statement on Reducing Disproportionality in Suspensions and Expulsions (Exclusionary Discipline).
Multi-disciplinary Team, Staff Development and Supports
Before the reopening of school, assess current capacity and supports for behavioral health services
to prioritize needs and services, including professional development for staff. One size does not fit
all – students will vary with their experiences, coping strategies and developmental understanding of
rules and requirements. Be objective and provide formal and informal opportunities for their voices to
be heard. Build a multi-disciplinary team and connect to community resources to build whole-school
supports. Use the school multi-disciplinary team to support students within a multi-tier system of supports
(MTSS) framework and include tele-counseling to support students. Ensure your crisis response
plan is updated and addressing suicidality protocols. Work with staff to be reflective, and pause before
responding to inappropriate behaviors. Be aware of and train staff on the potential for mask-wearing to
influence their ability to gauge behavioral intent due to the partial covering of facial cues. Make an effort
to welcome and engage families during this time as they may be experiencing trauma, anxiety, and
Addendum 10: Reframing and Reopening: School Discipline Amidst COVID-19 Guidance 3
grief. Getting students caught up academically is important during this time, pacing is important, and
encouraging brain breaks is vital to their success. Maintain positive and affirming views of all students
from all backgrounds and encourage continued positive views of school and learning.
Weigh the Evidence on Mitigating Factors
Decisions regarding the appropriate use of discipline are multifaceted and must take into account both
the context in which the challenging behavior occurs and the many individual, cultural, social, developmental
and environmental factors that may play a part when determining a course of action. School
administrators should be mindful regarding decision rules on school discipline and the loss of instructional
time. Some other factors to consider:
• Understanding cross-cultural and communication factors;
• Age, grade level and developmental stage of the student;
• Student’s intent and understanding the full picture for engaging in the challenging behavior;
• Addressing possible learning and behavioral and/or emotional needs of the student and whether
these needs have been addressed through a referral process and a multi-disciplinary or
planning and placement teams;
• Student’s prior response to disciplinary interventions and monitoring student’s progress including
positive behavioral tiered system of supports, restorative practices, and social-emotional learning;
• Student’s academic progress and chronic absences due to disengagement;
• Engaging families as a support mechanism for improving the student’s behavior;
• Understanding the long term impact of sanctions on the student’s academic performance and
considering alternative avenues that can be used as teachable moments without exclusionary
• Severity of the infraction or disruption, the safety of other students and staff, and the student’s
disciplinary history and any patterns.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it reasonable to “reset” and not pursue pending discipline or reduce existing discipline?
The Connecticut State Department of Education’s (CSDE) position is that school districts should consider,
on an individualized student basis, whether it may be best to modify or discontinue pursuing
discipline, to acknowledge the social-emotional and mental health impact of the pandemic as well
as the educational disruption as result of the cancellation of classes. Of course, school districts will
need to assess where specific disciplinary action is mandated under the law (e.g., mandatory expulsion
for firearm possession or drug distribution).
While ultimately a local decision, school districts would not be prohibited from reducing or reconsidering
prior or pending discipline given the pandemic.
2. If a pending expulsion hearing was postponed as a result of the pandemic, what impact does
this have on a disciplinary action?
Hearing officers should consider any disciplinary period to be inclusive of the period of time during
which the hearing was postponed.
3. Could mask-wearing policies result in additional disproportionality related to discipline? How
should that be addressed?
It is imperative that school districts ensure that mask-wearing rules and other COVID-19 related
health and safety protocols do not result in disproportional impact on students (e.g students of color
and students with disabilities). Mask-wearing makes it difficult to read facial cues, which requires educators
to be trained and consider other ways to assess behaviors, for example, posing open-ended
questions to gain an understanding of the student’s intent.
Addendum 10: Reframing and Reopening: School Discipline Amidst COVID-19 Guidance 4
4. How should educators approach addressing behavioral concerns in the remote learning context?
Remote education may introduce unique behavioral issues that require schools to set clear expectations
how existing rules apply in the remote environment. Consider how existing policies (for
example plagiarism, cheating, cyber bullying, etc.) will be addressed in the environment of remote
learning. Often it is appropriate to consider non-disciplinary interventions and redirecting, de-escalation
techniques, student support options and/or engaging families, prior to pursuing discipline.
If a student engages in behavior that may warrant discipline during a remote learning session,
the school district should engage in the same process it would in-person to address the behavior.
Districts should work with their legal counsel to ensure that students are given due process protections,
recognizing that it may be necessary to convene a hearing or other meeting via virtual
5. Is a student removing their face mask during the day (not during a break) or refusing to wear a
mask a disciplinary issue?
School districts should be making every effort to continually reinforce the importance of mask wearing
and other protocols associated with COVID-19 mitigation (e.g., social distancing, refraining from
shaking hands, not sharing food or school items, etc.) and the reasoning for these requirements,
to avoid non-compliance. Schools should adopt official board policies on these important public
health and safety activities, which are in place specifically to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and
ultimately to save lives.
Recognizing the stress and trauma caused by the pandemic that may influence a student’s decision
to test certain rules enacted for purposes of COVID-19 mitigation, the CSDE strongly recommends
schools prioritize measures to provide information about the importance of mitigation
protocols, such as mask wearing, for students’ protection before considering disciplinary measures.
The mask-wearing requirement in particular is a new and unfamiliar expectation for students, and
schools must prepare a broad spectrum of non-exclusionary options to support students, prior to
Ultimately, schools may have to use the disciplinary process if it is necessary.
6. Will there be mask dress code?
CSDE has recommended that school districts develop board approved policies related to mask
wearing. Schools are encouraged to approach what they perceives as an inappropriate mask consistent
with the approach to similar imagery on other articles of clothing.
7. How do masks fit in with restraint and seclusion?
Consult the Adapt, Advance, Achieve document both related to special education and students
with high needs, which suggests that staff serving high need populations are likely to have closer
physical contact with students and should be provided access to heightened personal protective
8. If a student claims a medical condition to avoid wearing a mask, will that claim be verified?
Students should be expected to provide written documentation from a health care provider to confirm
they qualify for an exemption, consistent with any applicable law and/or relevant state guidance
9. If a student claims that wearing a mask is against their First Amendment rights, how does the
school address this?
We do not believe that there is a credible legal argument or compelling claim that requiring the
wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 violates the state or federal Constitution.
Schools should prepare for this issue by consulting with their board counsel to receive advice to
respond to this type of claim.
Addendum 10: Reframing and Reopening: School Discipline Amidst COVID-19 Guidance 5
10. Currently, schools have isolation rooms. Will there be rooms for kids who refuse to wear masks?
As noted above, prior to the imposition of disciplinary measures, school districts are encouraged
to remind students of the significant health implications of this decision and work with the student
to correct and encourage cooperation. Schools should not place students who are refusing masks
into COVID-19 isolation rooms.
11. How should issues surrounding mask wearing being handled with children in the early
childhood period of development?
As noted in this document, a child’s developmental level should be considered regarding the reasons
why mask wearing may be challenging. Consider supportive/preventive strategies to encourage
mask wearing (e.g., social stories, child involvement in developing specific classroom rules,
posting a visual daily schedule that includes when mask breaks will occur). Specific consideration
should be given to sensory issues and additional mask breaks should be planned accordingly.
Young children do best when the classroom rules and routines are clear and predictable.