School Discipline/Codes of Conduct And Zero Tolerance


This web-based document has been prepared from a report prepared for the Canadian Association of Principals under a grant provided by the Youth Justice Policy Division Department of Justice, Government of Canada. That report, Zero Tolerance Policies in Context: A Preliminary Investigation to Identify Actions to Improve School Discipline and School Safety, was used to create these resources that can help schools to develop their plans and policies.

Executive Summary

Principals’ Perceptions of Zero Tolerance and School Discipline

Review of the Research on Zero Tolerance and School Discipline

Analysis of Provincial/Territorial Guidelines

School Board Policies/School Codes of Conduct: Analysis and Guide


Zero Tolerance Policies in Context:
A Preliminary Investigation to Identify Actions to Improve School Discipline and School Safety

 Prepared for the Canadian Association of Principals

By Mary M Shannon and Douglas S. McCall of

Shannon & McCall Consulting Ltd

 Executive Summary

The purpose of this investigation is to assess four sources of information to identify potential actions that can be taken by schools and justice authorities to ensure that school discipline policies are effective and coordinated with justice/law enforcement and community resources. The Canadian Association of Principals (CAP) conducted four activities to obtain relevant information.

 In summary, this assessment has found that:

  1. Zero tolerance policies are poorly understood by many Canadians and educators.
  2. Policies stipulating automatic suspensions for serious offenses in school need to placed and understood within the context of other potential sanctions, sound school discipline policies/codes of conduct, positive school climates and comprehensive approaches to safe schools as well as safe communities.
  3. School-based administrators are more concerned with what happens before (preventive actions) and after an incident in school (support to the student and school) than rigid or prescriptive procedures to handle the crisis or to impose the sanction.
  4. There is no reliable, welcoming and appropriate source for school-based administrators to access and share practical advice on school discipline.
  5. It is not likely that there is deliberate tolerance for any misbehaviors in schools. However, there is a growing perception or uneasiness about the current situation in schools that cannot be confirmed or denied because there are no reliable and regular sources of data on prevalence of problem behaviours, nor of relevant policies, programs and services.
  6. If there is a problem, the source may not be a lack of written policy statement. The serious problems may be more attributable to the social contexts surrounding schools. The minor problems may be attributable to the diminished capacity and commitment of the adults in the school to play an active role outside of their formal duties.
  7. There is a lack of evaluative and descriptive research on several topics examined in this review. Further, policy makers may be making decisions with very little data on the current situation in their schools and how they compare to other school systems.
  8. A policy-making model should be developed that recognizes the tri-level (ministry, school board, school), open, loosely coupled nature of the school systems as well as the need for shared decision-making practices among educators, police and other agencies> Shared decision-making should guide schools, police departments, youth court officials and social welfare agencies in how they work together relative to the school.
  9. Consistent with earlier research, local school board policies appear to continue to be narrow in scope. However, recent education ministry guidelines have been adopted that have directed schools in different jurisdictions to go in apparently different directions. Many of those new directives are far more comprehensive in scope. Whether this makes a difference in the nature of school-level decision-making and implementation of school discipline remains to be studied.
  10. One of the emerging research trends and questions is that no single basic choice of approach to school discipline and safety may be appropriate for all schools. Urban schools, rural schools, suburban schools all face different circumstances, resources and constraints. As well, the local neighbourhood, parent attitudes, school staff norms and the students themselves all mix together to establish a context that may require choice from among three alternatives: universal, selected or intensive response. This differentiated approach is worthy of further exploration.

To follow up on this preliminary assessment, the following activities should be explored to support schools at the grass roots level.

 Principals’ Perceptions of Zero Tolerance Policies and School Discipline
A Report on Focus Group Discussions


As part of a regular meeting of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Association of Principals, 19 practicing school-based administrators were asked to discuss six questions relating to zero-tolerance policies and school discipline. Subsequent to the meeting, a summary of the discussions was prepared and sent to participants with a request for further comments. This report summarizes the findings of this consultation with the education professionals who are truly in the frontline of applying school discipline policies.

Summary of Discussions:

  1. There was considerable variance in the interpretation of the term “zero-tolerance”.

    Participants struggled to develop a consistent definition of zero-tolerance policies. They were unclear as to whether or not such zero-tolerance policies were always accompanied by predetermined consequences for noncompliance with expected behaviours. As well, participants were not comfortable in simply grouping certain offences by their severity and thereby stating that it was appropriate to have predetermined consequences for serious offences. Further, participants noted that the severity of the incident was open to different interpretation, both by individuals having different experience levels with infractions and by the context in which the incident occurred.

  2. Currently, there is little tolerance for any misbehaviour in schools. However, the interpretation, community support, parental support, school capacity to respond and the consequences may vary.

    Most participants reported that their school or school board have well-established school discipline/student conduct policies that stipulate consequences for student misbehaviours. In almost all cases, there is no tolerance for such behaviours within the school. The problems arise from things other than the definition of a predetermined consequence. They come from three directions:

    First, participants noted that the capacity of the school to prevent such misbehaviour is constrained by their community context, parental support, the availability of services from other agencies, the resources available to the school, the willingness and ability of their staff and the general social climate in the school.

    Second, participants also felt that the time and resources required to ensure due process and the right to appeals, etc. were significant. The process has become more complicated and confrontational.

    Third, participants were not certain that expelling or suspending students were the only consequences that should be considered. However, alternatives such as in-school suspensions, diversion programs, student courts, community service, etc. all require resources and staffing.

  3. School-based administrators want discretionary authority to respond to the needs of their students.

    Generally, participants were not comfortable with lockstep disciplinary procedures. They want to be able to match their responses to their school, to their students and to individual students. While not disagreeing with significant consequences for severe infractions, school principals also want to exercise their professional judgment. Participants noted that some students need more help than others. Incremental consequences need to be applied for some individuals. Zero-tolerance is good for some students and not for others, depending upon family factors and individual circumstances.

  4. School administrators are aware of alternatives to suspension and expulsion of students. However, they are also aware of the practical steps and resources that need to be in place for these alternatives to be successful.

    Participants were able to identify several alternative consequences to infractions that could be used instead of suspending or expelling students. These included alternative schools and classes, behaviour management programs, loss of privileges, in-school suspensions, partial attendance, home schooling, etc. However, participants also noted that such alternatives require resources. For example, in-school suspensions require that there be suitable space in the school with staff or volunteers to supervise it. Teachers have to supply alternative work to the student, some of which may be difficult to coordinate with ongoing class activities.

  5. Administrators were concerned about the possibility of unintended consequences of zero-tolerance policies (i.e. inappropriate suspension for a minor or single infraction) but were not aware of widespread misuse of such policies.

    Participants expressed concern about the possibility of inappropriate use of zero-tolerance policies but did not identify any examples of where this had happened in their experience.

Zero Tolerance, School Discipline and School Safety:
Report on Preliminary Review of the Research Literature


It should be recognized that this research literature review is preliminary in nature, seeking to identify relevant areas for further inquiry only. This review, when coupled with the practical concerns of school-based administrators, a review of provincial/territorial guidelines and a contents analysis of a sample of school policies on student conduct, helps us to understand where theory can help practice on this critical topic. However, each component of this review is worthy of a full investigation. This is well beyond the scope of this preliminary review.


A keyword search for research documents was done for this project in the following databases: Canadian Business and Current Affairs/Repere, Criminal Justice Abstracts, Access to Justice Net, Medline, CINAHL, PsychInfo and ERIC. Where possible, searches were limited to entries published after 1995. Search words were used in various combinations and included: violence prevention, school environment, schools and conduct problems, suspensions, violence repression, school discipline, juvenile delinquency and education, zero tolerance, conduct problems, behaviour problems, expulsion, discipline problems, in-school suspensions, academic probation, withdrawal education, sanctions, discipline policy. Further analysis and research would be useful but was beyond the scope of this inquiry. As well, an Internet search using several search engines was used to identify online documents. Several thousand entries were located. A limited selection was made from those entries in order to answer the questions identified at the beginning of the study.


This preliminary search did attribute any specific weight or detailed analysis to the research evidence identified in this review. Meta-analyses were identified whenever they were found. However, this review did not critically examine case studies for methods such as random sampling, equivalence at baseline, accounting for non-participation, duration of effects, fidelity of implementation, and multi-site replication of the program or approach. This type of analysis should be done in future work

A Framework for this Review

A specific question for this inquiry is to assess the impact of zero-tolerance approaches to student misbehaviour in school. For the purposes of this project, a zero-tolerance policy is one that assigns predetermined consequences/sanctions (suspension) for selected serious offenses. However earlier research (Day et al, 1995; Gabor, 1995) has noted that definitions and understandings of the zero-tolerance approach may vary.

This investigation of zero-tolerance policies was accompanied by an examination of their potential impact on the rights and responsibilities of students, parents and educators, as well as, the fairness of the procedures associated with such policies.  Further, this review sought evidence of the effectiveness of school imposed sanctions as well as related procedures to reintegrate offending students back into school.

Further, this investigation examines zero-tolerance policies (or its counterpart, discretionary policies) within the context of a sanctions/punitive approach, then a behavioural expectations (school discipline) approach. Moving outward, such school discipline policies are also considered within the context of school efforts to improve the school’s social climate through prevention and intervention strategies. These efforts would provide support for appropriate behaviours through rules and procedures affecting the behaviours of students in the school, on playgrounds and buses and in classrooms. However, instructional strategies (e.g. conflict resolution) and other strategies such as mentoring and peer mediation are not reviewed here.

The following diagram illustrates the concentric nature of this investigation. However, while looking at the diagram, one should note that the two outer rings (safe schools and safe communities) are not examined in this review. This literature search is discussing only behavioural rules, norms and the application of sanctions or policy-oriented preventive or remedial measures.

This categorization of approaches is similar to that used by Day et al (1995), where their typology included four categories: response/sanction, behavioural, identification/prevention and community. Similarly, Gottfredson (1998) organized school-based interventions into two categories: environment change strategies and individual change strategies. Coben et al (1994) categorized school violence prevention efforts in four categories: educational, environmental-technological, regulatory and combined.

Zero-Tolerance or Discretionary Decision-Making

The choice to introduce a zero-tolerance approach is usually targeted at significantly harmful behaviours within the school (National Center on Education Statistics, 1998). This review will assess the rationale for assigning predetermined sanctions for these behaviours, the implications of this new approach on the fairness of procedures used to implement this approach, the immediate impact of the zero-tolerance choice on all students and the offending students as well as the long-term impact on the safety of the community.

This review sought to determine if research had answered these questions.

Do the trends or statistical evidence in levels of unacceptable or inappropriate behaviours in Canadian schools indicate that traditional approaches to school discipline/student conduct need to be modified? Are there more or less incidents, serious incidents, suspensions or expulsions? What is the current level of use of zero-tolerance in Canada and elsewhere?

Is there any evidence suggesting that giving discretionary authority to school principals or school authorities results in too lenient or inconsistent sanctions?

Does the predetermination of consequences/sanctions for selected unacceptable behaviours result in more effect in:

a)       improving the safety/school climate for all students either in removing the students causing problems or acting as a deterrent (immediate output)?

b)       correcting the behaviours of offending students (immediate output)?

c)       enhancing the overall safety of the community (long-term outcome)?

Is there evidence suggesting that some unacceptable behaviours are better suited to a zero-tolerance (non-discretionary) approach?

Does the introduction of predetermined consequences/sanctions abrogate the rights of alleged offenders? (Right to due process, natural justice, punishment to fit the crime, individual case, etc.)

Is there evidence suggesting that predetermination of consequences results in the application of inappropriate sanctions for some students or in some cases?

The Effect of a Sanctions Approach

A school can impose a variety of sanctions to correct behaviours of offending students, act as a deterrent to others, improve the safety and discipline of all students and help to maintain an ordered learning environment. Again, this review sought to locate research that reported on these three effects for the following sanctions:

Does the sanction improve the school climate for all students? (output)       

Does the sanction correct the behaviours of the offending students? (output)

Does the sanction enhance the overall safety of the community? (outcome)

The sanctions to be examined are:

Prior to looking for evidence of the effect of these sanctions, we looked for research evidence and professional consensus on how these sanctions should be developed and implemented. Specific questions relating to these implementation issues are:

What support/involvement is required from parents/guardians/caregivers? How can this support be encouraged?

What support is needed from teachers”

What support/involvement is required from police? law enforcement? the courts?

What support/involvement is required from other publicly funded agencies?

What support/involvement is beneficial from community volunteers or organizations?

What support is required from senior school administrators and school trustees?

Are there good examples of effective use of sanctions in Canada? elsewhere?

 The Effect of Behavioural Expectations (School Discipline/Student Conduct Rules)

Once again, this review sought to identify research that suggested three types of effects that might be attributed to the use of school discipline/student conduct rules:

        Do the rules improve the school climate for all students? (output)

        Do the rules correct the behaviours of offending students? (output)

        Do the rules enhance the overall safety of the community? (outcome)

Prior to discussing the potential effects of school discipline/student conduct policies, we sought to identify research that told us:

        What topics should be covered in such policies?

        How should these school discipline/student conduct policies be developed and implemented?

        Are “good” school discipline/student conduct policies in place in most schools in Canada? elsewhere?

What professional skills/practices are needed among teachers and school administrators to implement these policies effectively? Are the    most appropriate roles of classroom teacher, guidance counselor, social worker, school psychologist, school principal clearly defined?

Are there adaptations of such policies for sub-populations of students? (students with emotional or behavioural disorders, others)

What support is required from senior school administrators and school trustees?

What involvement is needed from teachers outside of their classrooms?

What support/involvement is required from parents/guardians/caregivers? How can this support be encouraged?

What support/involvement is required from students? How can this be encouraged?

Are there good examples and models of “good” school rules in Canada? elsewhere?

The Effect of Positive School Climate

In this final section, this review examines how various preventive programs and rehabilitation interventions can maintain a positive school climate. Comprehensive preventive programs aimed at improving the school climate (such as Effective Behaviour Support, Peaceful Schools or Anti-Bullying Programs) are considered. We also examined specific prevention activities such as improving classroom management/teaching, police protocols, school security measures, school uniforms, truancy prevention, early identification and referral procedures. Interventions aimed at rehabilitating and reintegrating offending students are also considered, including individual education plans, crisis intervention/aftermath procedures and coordinated case management.

Again, this review sought research evidence indicating that these comprehensive or singular prevention or intervention programs had an impact on three levels:

improving the safety of all students (output)

correcting the behaviours of offending students (output)

enhancing the safety of the community (outcome).

As well, this review sought research to indicate that policy-makers and/or practitioners had developed agreements on how these programs and services should be implemented. Specific questions in this regard include:

Is there agreement on what constitutes a positive behaviour support program such as EBS or Peaceful Schools?

Is the use of these positive school climate approaches widespread in Canadian schools? elsewhere?

Are there professional norms, backed by research, on good practices in implementing the specific prevention or intervention strategies mentioned above?

What support is required from senior school administrators and school trustees?

What support/involvement is required from students? How can this be encouraged?

What support is needed from teachers?

What support/involvement is required from parents? How can this be encouraged?

What support/involvement is required from police and the youth court?

What support/involvement is required from other publicly funded agencies?

What support/involvement is beneficial from community organizations?


The disciplining of our children is inextricably linked to the basic values we hold as human beings. Those values will guide us in the writing of our laws and in the codes of conduct that we establish in schools. This basic truth has been explained well in the research (Leonard, 1999; McCarthy, 1997). Consequently, it is appropriate that we begin this review with a short discussion of the conceptualization of discipline for children.

The Canadian Paediatric Society (1996) has presented a positive, healthy view of discipline which was often supported in the research reviewed for this project. Slee (1997) has presented the theories underlying professional approaches to discipline and behaviour management that show punitive approaches to discipline are self-limiting in their effect on children and youth. Fox (1987) tells us how a thoughtful approach, that stays focused on long-term goals and the mutuality of the process, can help us to avoid that punitive and short-term approach.

The National Crime Prevention Council (1995) has taken this positive philosophy in its paper, Clear Limits and Real Opportunities: The Keys to Preventing Youth Crime.   MacDonald (1997, 1998, 1999) in her study of junior high schools in Alberta, argues against “chasing the storm clouds: and, instead, seeing discipline as an opportunity to teach social skills rather than punish wrongdoers. She also shows, in a practical way, how the conceptualization of discipline and violence influences the behaviour of school principals, one of the key influencers in the school process.

The importance of conceptualizing discipline in a positive way is underlined by some of the research located in this review. Differing perceptions and multiple realities may cause conflict and confusion in schools and homes over discipline. There are a variety of perspectives about parenting and schooling that will influence the development of school discipline plans (Wyness, 1996). As well, our conceptualization of the problem of school violence is critical. Teachers and administrators  tend to conceptualize the problem of unacceptable behaviour in schools as a community problem (Pietrzak et al, 1998).

Other studies (Sewell & Chamellin, 1997;  MacDonald and Da Costas, 1996) report that there are some significant differences in the perceptions held by students, teachers and administrators about school violence. While educators, parents and others may see the levels of violence in school as disturbing, students may have come to see such behaviour as “normal” and, consequently, be unwilling to report the majority of incidents for fear of reprisals or being outside the prevailing norms. (MacDonald, 1997a).

Situated within this potentially murky, muddled and multiple set of conceptions and perspectives, this review has found that the term “zero-tolerance” has unfortunately become a confusing piece of rhetoric. Gabor (1995) and Thompson (1994) have commented on this lack of clarity. Many Canadians understand the term to be “no tolerance for unacceptable behaviours”, accompanied by an assurance that there will be a consequence for each infraction.

However, recently in Canada, and often in the United States, the term “zero-tolerance” has come to mean there will be a predetermined, automatic consequence for serious infractions, with no discretion on the nature of the punishment. It is this latter definition that is discussed in this review. There is widespread consensus that the first definition should be followed. The second definition is the subject of controversy which this review will explore

In beginning this review, we reread a publication of the American Association of School Administrators (Brodinsky, 1980) published two decades ago. The contents of that manual offer an interesting insight. We note that several of those 1980 topics that are still with us today, including school board policy, school codes of conduct, student handbooks, student-parent-teacher training, curricula to support rules, in school suspensions and suspension/expulsion. However, instead of the problem behaviour of vandalism and smoking we now talk of violence, weapons, gangs, and drugs/alcohol. We also note the growing trend in Canada and the U.S. that provincial/territorial or state governments are stipulating what will be in student codes of conduct. Two decades ago, this was left to school boards and schools.

We conclude these introductory remarks with this thought. School policy will not be enough. There is a remarkable consensus in the materials reviewed that zero-tolerance, sanctions, a student code, school discipline or even efforts to improve the school climate are, by themselves, insufficient to ensure that a school is safe and caring. Instruction to develop student skills, beliefs and knowledge is required. Social support, in the form of peer programs, parent action and community policing programs is needed for schools. Efforts to situate the school within a safe and caring community need to be made. Without these things, school rules will be insufficient to protect children.

As well, as we begin this discussion, we need to be careful that we do not fall into these traps identified by Horner et al (2000). These six strategies will all likely lead to problems.

Hopefully, this preliminary review will help us avoid those traps, to the benefit of students, educators and parents.

That leads us to our final introduction note. In reviewing the research measuring the effect of sanctions, codes of conduct and prevention/intervention strategies, we sought to identify research that reported on three types of effects; on the safety of all students, on the behaviour of offending students and on the overall safety of the community.

Gottfredson (1998) has noted that researchers are now trying to measure these direct and indirect effects through studying delinquent and violent behaviour in schools, withdrawal from school, the prevalence of conduct problems in the community and the prevalence of low self-esteem among individual youth. In other words, if we are going to use a comprehensive approach to preventing school violence, we should be using comprehensive measurement tools.

Key Findings

There is considerable confusion over the term “zero-tolerance”. It should be discarded in future policy discussions. We suggest using  “automatic suspensions for serious offenses”

There is little evidence that the prevalence of anti-social behaviour is increasing or decreasing in schools. There is no regular, reliable data collection in Canada. However, public and professional perceptions indicate a concern, to the extent that policy-makers are responding with new legislation or policy directives. Immediate research on the prevalence of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviours in schools is needed.

There is little evidence that a non-discretionary approach to serious offences is more or less effective than a discretionary one. The number of serious offences that occur in schools is very small and the solutions to them are multidisciplinary in nature.

There is little evidence about the efficacy of the sanctions most often used by schools to respond to minor offences with the exception of extensive research on alternatives to suspension and expulsion. Only one study was found (Education Testing Service, 1999) and it did include students who had dropped out of school. More research on lighter sanctions is required.

More research on the implementation of in-school suspensions is required to determine the barriers to its use. This strategy has been recommended for decades and we still do not have data on the prevalence of its use.

There is no regular, reliable data on the sanctions, policies and prevention/intervention programs used in Canadian schools.

Several provinces/territories, states and other countries have recently revised or introduced legislation or regulations to require schools to establish codes of conduct, programs to maintain a positive school climate or to ensure the management of students with behaviour disorders

There appears to be a significant gap in the supervision of hallways and playgrounds at school. Little research has been done on what strategies are most effective. In particular, measures to ensure an active staff response to minor incidents and ways to encourage students to report their concerns are required.

Proven promising programs have been developed and are being implemented in many schools that deliver school-wide effective behaviour support to all students, promote peace or prevent violence or bullying through school-wide approaches or that deliver positive behaviour support to students with special needs.

We need studies of parent, student, teacher and administrator attitudes/beliefs and practices relating to school discipline. This investigation should differentiate between serious and non serious offenses.

Research is needed on how effective partnerships can be formed among students, parents, educators and police. As well, their specific roles need to be clarified and evaluated for effectiveness.

Research into differentiated policy choices among schools experiencing dramatically different levels of violence needs to be done.

The roles of different levels of authority and their appropriate scope of action in school discipline needs to guide our analysis. This research needs to also examine the corresponding levels of authority in police and youth justice sectors. 

A.             Zero-Tolerance: An Answer? A Distraction? An Understandable but Misdirected Reaction?

This examination of the potential value of “zero-tolerance approach”, where there are automatic suspensions or expulsions for serious student infractions such as physical assault, use of weapons, drugs or threats, will examine six related questions.

Is there evidence that the level of unacceptable behaviours in schools is increasing? A related question will also be asked: Has there been an increased number of suspensions or expulsions?

Is there evidence that administrator/school discretion has been too lenient or inconsistent?

Does the automatic suspension or expulsion of students lead to safety for all students, correcting the behaviour of offending students and/or greater safety in the community?

Is there evidence that some behaviours are better suited to a zero-tolerance (automatic) response?

Does the application of automatic suspensions/expulsions result in the abrogation of student rights?

Is there evidence that the application of zero-tolerance policies lead to unintended or inappropriate sanctions?

The next section of the paper will address the efficacy of various sanctions. However, it should be noted that there is considerable evidence showing that suspensions/expulsions from school are ineffective in changing the behaviour of young offenders, unless they are accompanied by long-term, appropriate and intensive services to the student and family as well as appropriate well-resourced alternative education programs.

Are Inappropriate and Unacceptable Behaviours Increasing in Schools?

There are no regular, reliable and national surveys of the prevalence of serious or non-serious offenses in schools (Shannon & McCall, 1999). The proportion of youth charged with crimes under the criminal code declined from 26% in 1992 to 20% in 1997. Fifteen per cent of those crimes occurred on school property (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2000). However, these data do not capture other less serious forms of aggression.

A small number of Canadian research studies have some data on in less serious school aggression. In B.C. (McCreary, 1998), students reported that, between 1992-1998, there was no change in the proportion who had been involved in fights (42% of boys, 18% of girls).

The Auditor-General of B.C. (2000), in its survey of teachers, reported that a number of aggressive behaviours had increased among elementary and secondary students, including: (These behaviours were reported as occurring “often”)

  Elementary Secondary
swearing or trash talk (other) 14 52
rough play (other) 27 19
 verbal abuse (threats) 19 33
physical abuse (fighting) 13 9
drinking/drug use 1 41
vandalism/theft 3 15

    In Alberta, Gomes et al (2000) reported these prevalences of aggression at school:

property damage                                   15.3
 theft                                                        22.0
 something taken by force                      5.3
  threatened                                             21.8
slapped/punched/kicked                     22.0
 something thrown at them                   8.5
 threatened with a weapon                     2.4
 attacked by group or gang                    1.6
someone exposed themselves            3.1
sexually touched against will                4.8
someone said something sexual         10.7


An international study done for Health Canada (Health Canada, 1999) found that 56% of boys and 40% of girls in grades 6 and 8 admitted that they has bullied someone that year. As well, 43% of boys and 35% of girls said that they had been victims of bullying.

The John Howard Society (1998) has summarized various reports on youth crime. Once again, the downward trend in youth crime generally was reported.

The above reports should be a source of concern. There are levels of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviours in schools that need to be addressed.

However, it should be noted that serious crimes such as weapons or gangs have not increased in Canadian schools. Skiba & Peterson (1999), found a similar pattern when comparing U.S. schools between 1990-1991 and 1996-1997 - serious crime rates in schools either stayed the same or declined.

Canadian elementary schools were seen to be safe in an analysis of the first cycle data of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (Frank & Lipps, 1997). This report showed that 98% of students are not truant. Only 28% were disciplined for verbal conflict, 11% for fighting and 5% for harassment. Ninety-five per cent (95%) of school pupils in those elementary schools said they have never had to deal with drugs, staff assault, weapons or theft.

Gabor (1995) in his surveys and focus groups with educators, police and youth, reported that they collectively perceived that most offenses were committed by a small minority of students (between 1% and 10%). Day (1995) found similar educator concerns.

An American analysis (Education testing Service, 1999), using the data from the 1998 National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS) found that students were “bipolar” in their attitudes towards a range of behaviours. Relatively large proportions of students (29%) felt it was “ok” to commit some minor offenses but only 3% said it was ok to bring a weapon to school. Only 5% of students in that survey had ever been suspended from school.

This is not to say that the public and professionals are not concerned. Gabor (1995) reported on the sharp increase in the coverage of youth crimes in the Canadian media. This review identified a number of similar references in the years after Gabor’s report (Education Monitor, 1998; Canadian Press, 1998; Calgary Herald, 2000; Cloud 1999; Leschart, 1999). In 1993, an Environics Poll reported that violence was the top concern for schools (MacDougall, 1993).

Dalton (2000), in discussing the contradiction between declining youth crime and increase concern about school violence, suggests that the increased concern may be due to several factors, including; new laws requiring automatic suspensions/expulsions, the media reports, pressure from human rights legislation, increased awareness of civil liability and less lenient attitudes towards bullying.

Governments have responded to increased concern with new laws and regulations requiring schools to establish zero-tolerance policies, school codes of conduct, school-wide plans to prevent violence and special measures to ensure that students with behavioural disorders are managed properly. This has occurred in the UK (Department for Education and Employment, 1999) and across the U.S. (Education Commission of the States, 1998). The legal responses have included automatic suspension/expulsion for serious offenses, mandatory school codes, mandatory school safety plans, notification of student records, gang prevention, firearms prohibition and alternative education.

In the U.S., approximately three-quarters of schools have automatic expulsion policies for serious offenses (94% for firearms, 91% for other weapons, 88% for drugs, 79% for violence and 79% for tobacco use). The Education Testing Service Study (1999) showed that American school administrators were likely to follow these policies immediately for serious offenses, but were more likely to be lenient with first offenses for less serious infractions.

In Canada, Oppenheimer & Zeigler (1990) found that suspensions were used less frequently in Toronto schools than their American counterparts, but more often than British schools. Day & Golench (1997) reported from their 1995 survey that most Canadian schools saw suspension and expulsion within a more preventive approach. The first zero-tolerance (i.e. automatic suspension for serious offense) appeared in Canada in 1993 (MacDonald, 1996).

Recent changes to provincial/territorial guidelines and policy support documents have been made in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. In Quebec, the Superior Council of Education, an advisory committee to the Minister is preparing a submission.

Does professional discretion in the application of discipline result in overly-lenient or inconsistent sanctions?

Gabor (1995) reported from his surveys and focus groups that police officers, educators and students were increasingly concerned with school discipline problems. They favoured consequences that were consistent, predictable yet flexible. They also favoured the protection of the majority, if necessary, over the rights of the minority causing the problems. He also reported that all three groups felt that sanctions were not preventing the “hard core” from misbehaving in schools. The reasons for this were: youth offender laws, family breakdown, erosion of the school’s authority, peer pressure, violence in the media and poor rule enforcement.

In British Columbia, the Auditor-General (2000) reported that appropriate student codes of conduct had been developed by all schools and school districts. However, adherence to those codes varied significantly. Expectations and consequences need to be made clearer. Students need to be encouraged to report their concerns. School staff need to consistently follow-up to make it clear that the codes will be enforced. For example, the survey done for that report noted that BC secondary school codes were “mostly” supported, enforced or understood by only 77% of school administrators, 41% of staff, 33% of parents and 69% of students.

MacDonald (1997), in her study of five schools in Alberta, noted that students were not satisfied with the responses from school staff to violence and misbehaviour. One small exploratory study (O’Brien, 1998) asked teachers why they did not intervene with unruly students in hallways (but did so effectively in their classes). The reasons were: too busy, not knowing students, viewing misconduct as typical and lack of support from administration or other teachers.

Do Automatic Suspension/Expulsions for Serious Offenses Work?

The introduction of automatic suspensions/expulsions for serious offenses in schools has generated considerable debate in Canada and elsewhere. Lipsett (1999), originally from the Scarborough School Board that introduced the first zero-tolerance policy, reported that the implementation of the policy was accompanied by 50% reductions in the average number of serious incidents reported by schools. (She also noted that early data showed an increase in the number of reports of less serious crimes such as verbal threats.

The Education Testing Service (1999) analysis of longitudinal data shows that schools with more severe penalties had few incidents of serious infractions. This was true, on average, but unpacking the data, the study showed that severe penalties were correlated with fewer serious incidents in urban and public schools. That study also found that schools with zero-tolerance policies had more incidents of a less serious nature. (Again, please note that school dropouts were not in this sample.) The National Center on Education Statistics (1998) also reported that schools with lower rates of crime were less likely to use zero-tolerance policies.

Skiba & Peterson (1999) use that NCES data to show that the use of zero-tolerance policies has not made those schools safer, despite being in place for four years. They are still less safe than the schools without zero-tolerance policies.

A survey done in the U.K. for the Youth Justice Board (Market and Opinion Research International, 2000) reminds us that we need to measure the impact of zero-tolerance policies in the community as well as the school. That survey showed that 72% of students who had been expelled from school admitted that they had committed serious offenses, including vandalism (69%), shoplifting (60%), carrying a weapon (51%) and buying drugs (54%).  In contrast, 72% of students who were in school had committed no offense.

Skiba & Peterson (1999) point out that suspending a student is one way that schools “push out” students from schools. These troubled students are more likely to find more trouble in the streets. Other studies, to be discussed later in this review, show that zero-tolerance policies increase the number of students who are suspended or expelled from school.

Finally, we need to return to our earlier point about the efficacy of suspensions/expulsions that are not accompanied by alternate education, intensive and multiple services and other supports. Without these services, zero-tolerance policies can only shift the problem from the school to the community.

Gabor (1995) called for some sort of “middle ground” in resolving the zero-tolerance vs. discretion option. He suggested identifying automatic sanctions well in advance and stipulating clearly when the police would be notified. He also suggested that school staff should always conduct the initial investigation, unless there was an immediate threat to safety.


Evidence Suggesting That Some Behaviours Should Lead to Automatic Suspension/Expulsion

There appears to be a policy consensus among the proponents of zero-tolerance policies that they should only apply to serious offenses like weapons, drugs and assault. However, this search found no research showing that this automatic sanction approach was effective for any specific behaviour or crime.


Zero-Tolerance and the Rights of Students

A review of several reports and articles available in the databases searched for this review were analyzed for this section. However, no search was done on legal databases. There may be jurisprudence being established on zero-tolerance laws, but this methodology did not locate any.

There is a sizable and stable set of knowledge and case law that has been established in Canada regarding student rights and school discipline. The introduction and implications of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Dennis, 1996; Harte & McDonald 1996) has initiated analysis and discussion. As well, corporal punishment (Rettig, 2000; Obrien & Pietersema, 2000) and the Young Offenders Act (Jaffe & Baker, 1999) have both prompted legal and other advice. However, these sources did not include any references to zero-tolerance.

Recent Canadian case law (Alberta Teachers’ Association, 1999; Education Law Reporter, 1999, 1998; Green, 1990, Edulaw, 1996) has sought to clarify the rights of students. However, these reviews did not refer to zero-tolerance.

Rohr (1998) and Keel (1999) have outlined the steps that should be taken and criteria to be met when a student is suspended from school. Timelines, appeals and procedures were all discussed. Zero-tolerance was not discussed.

A limited number of American sources (Beyer, 1997; Antonucci, 1994; Beyer, nd; U.S. Department of Education, 1996) were reviewed in this search. Only Antonucci (1994) referred to zero-tolerance and the reference was brief. He discussed the liability of a principal who does not suspend a student when authorized to do so. He also referred briefly to the automatic suspension for carrying a firearm. Schwartz (1997) has noted that the U.S. Courts have been divided in their decisions about student rights under searches and seizures.

An non-authored website was identified in this search ( that lead us to several media articles on abuses to student rights. That website had a link related to case law, but unfortunately the website is no longer functioning.

Zero-Tolerance and Inappropriate Sanctions

A number of media reports were identified in this search that indicate that zero-tolerance policies are causing inappropriate sanctions for some students. A boy in York, PA was suspended for possession of nail clippers (National Post, 2000). Students who “high five” each other in Fall River, NS will be suspended (Smithson, 2000). One Cape Breton school board suspended 2000 students in 1998-1999 (Canadian Press, 2000). A review by Education Week (Portner, 1997) reported that, as a consequence, zero-tolerance policies were getting a second look. A USA Today report (Cauchon, 1999) reviewed those stories and reported that zero-tolerance policies were inflexible and ineffective.

On a more scholarly note, Curwin & Mendler (1999) and  Skiba & Peterson (1999) have made similar complaints about zero-tolerance policies. Skiba & Peterson (1999) have documented several examples of inappropriate sanctions being applied.

The Connecticut State Comptrollers Officer (Commins, 1998) has expressed concern that zero-tolerance policies have increased the number of expelled or suspended students and that the policy may be counterproductive. The rate of suspensions in that state quadrupled between 93-94 and 96-97. As well, these students were not being provided with alternative education or support services.

Other reports (Civil Rights Project, 2000; Keleher, 2000) indicate that zero-tolerance policies and suspensions may disfavour minority students. Also, the Australian Drug Foundation (1998) has stated that zero-tolerance policies in their schools have interfered with their “harm reduction” approach to reducing drug abuse.

Jay (1997) in a study of 59 student codes in the U.S. found that the wording was often not clear, particularly with terms such as foul language. In some zero-tolerance policies, the interpretation of terms such as “weapons or objects used as weapons”, “threats” or “harassment” may be subject to interpretation. Some reports indicate that some principals may chose to err on the cautious side under pressure of liability claims and suspend students for inappropriate reasons. Training may be effective in eliminating these subjective interpretations, but no evidence to that effect was located in our search.


B              Sanctions and Deterrence

This section of this review addresses the effective uses of various school-based sanctions. Again, we were seeking to identify information on the effect of these sanctions on all students, on offending students and on community safety in general.

We searched for research evidence on how to best engage the partners in the sanction process. These partners include the students, parents/guardians/caregivers, the police, health/social/employment agencies, community organizations and the senior administrator/school trustees of school boards. Very few sources were identified under these headings so we have consolidated them under the school discipline/behavioural expectations section of this review.

The following sanctions were the subjects of our investigation:

We begin this section with a general outlook at these sanctions, how they can and are being implanted and any general evidence that a sanctions focused approach can be effective.

Effectiveness and Use of Sanctions Approach

Oppenheimer & Zeigler (1990) reviewed several options in the use of sanctions. Like most others, they focused on the use of alternatives to suspension. However, there has been little research that has differentiated the types of sanctions to be able to describe their impact (Educational Testing Service, 1999). For example, we need to know if light sanctions, such as detentions or additional assignments, are able to deter students from more serious misbehaviour. Also, are there ways to apply light or medium strength sanctions that are more effective in deterring misbehaviour?

The Education Testing Service (1999) analysis of the 1988 National Education Longitudinal Survey is the only analysis of this type identified in our search for this review. They analyze student attitudes towards a range of offenses as well as the different types of sanctions used by schools in the U.S.

They found that sizable minorities of American students felt it was “sometimes ok” or “often ok” that students misbehaved in these ways:

They also found that American students were far less tolerant of serious misbehaviour in school; Only 3% found it “sometimes or often ok” to bring a weapon to school, 2% to destroy school property, 2% to drink, 1% to sue drugs at school, 1% to abuse teachers.

This analysis suggests that policy and program responses might be better if they strongly differentiated between serious and non-serious offenses.

A B.C. document was cited in the review by the Auditor-General of BC (2000) that presented misbehaviours as a continuum, ranging from disrespect to pushing and fighting to gangs or hate crimes. However, participants at a national meeting on safe schools (Shannon & McCall, 2000) were not comfortable in using that continuum in a joint statement. Research needs to determine if violence is a step-by-step continuum or if there is a direct pathway to serious offenses.

The Education Testing Service (1999) also described the sanctions and discipline policies used by American schools. They found that schools that used preventive policies such as hall passes were associated with lower levels of non-serious offenses. However, these policies did not have any impact on serious offenses or drug use. Here are their findings.

Common Discipline Policies and Sanction in U.S. Schools


This chart also shows that in-school suspensions were rarely used as sanctions, despite decades of researchers and experts promoting its use. Research is needed to determine if this policy is widely used. If it is not, then research should also describe the barrier to its use and how they can be overcome.


Research on the Effects of Specific Sanctions

We now attempt to analyze the behavioural impact of specific sanctions.

Little Research on Impact of Light Sanctions

This search did not locate any research on several forms of lighter sanctions; the ones used most often by schools. (The concepts of detention, transfer for discipline, additional assignments, community service for sanctions were not even found in the ERIC Thesaurus of search terms.)

This absence of research needs to be addressed quickly if schools are to be enlightened about how these strategies can be used effectively. Strategies for which we did not locate any research are:

Restitution is Effective

Gottfredson et al (1996) reviewed several school and community-based restitution programs and concluded that this approach was effective in correcting the behaviours of young offenders.

In-School Suspensions/Alternatives to Suspensions

This approach has been well discussed in the research literature. For example, 20 years ago, an American guide on school discipline (Brodinsky, 1980) referred to in-school suspension as “the top alternative of the 1970s”.

Day et al (1995) cite several sources that describe the value of in-school suspensions or alternatives to suspension/expulsion (Aleem & Moles, 1993; Ontario Ministry of Education, 1994). Sheets (1996) has classified in-school suspension under four categories; punitive, problem-solving, academic and individual. He suggests that ISS programs can modify student behaviour, protect the learning environment and protect the community.

Guindon (1992), in a review of the literature, reports that in-school suspension programs can be effective if they are accompanied by counseling, parental involvement, shared decision-making and continued academics. The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (nd) suggests that ISS programs include guidance support, planning for reintegration and opportunities to build new skills. A review done for the Leon County School Board (nd) in Florida, has a similar list of important elements for success, including; a philosophy of clearly stated rules, adequate resources, continuous program and intake monitoring, a student stay of at least 10 days, referrals for serious offenses only, a coordinator, full support from the principal and parent involvement from the start.

Many case studies of successful ISS programs were identified in this search. Canadian examples were found in Calgary (Jones, 1985), Abitibi (Polyvalente de la Forêt, nd), Etobicoke (Zammit, 1999), Kingston (Kingston Police, nd) and North York (North York General Hospital, nd). A new federal program in the U.S. is awarding $10 million for demonstration projects that provide alternatives to suspension. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (1995) has also identified several promising programs.

Short-Term Suspensions (less than 5 days)

Gabor (1995) cited research studies that indicated that short-term suspensions can be effective if students agree to stipulated conditions and if parents are involved. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (1995) review of research indicates that short-term suspensions are not an effective deterrent to student misbehaviour.

Long-Term Suspensions (until the end of year or term)

Several reviews of the research (Day et al, 1995; Oppenheimer & Zeigler, 1990) have reported that long-term suspensions are not effective in correcting student misbehaviour. O’Reilly & Sargent (1994) report that suspensions can protect the rights of other students, provide a consequence, act as a deterrent and communicate seriousness to the parents. However, suspensions do not provide a way for the offending student to change their behaviour, may jeopardize the student’s academic progress and may jeopardize the community as the expelled youth roams the neighbourhood.

Gabor (1995) reported that Canadian educators and police saw long-term suspensions and expulsions as a last resort. A survey of head teachers in Scotland (Munn et al, 1997) found similar views to those of Canadians.

Placement in an Alternate Class in the Same School

Gottfredson (1998), in a comprehensive review of school violence prevention strategies, suggests that reorganizing classes and regrouping students into alternate classes or “schools within schools” is a promising practice, although the research evidence on their effect is somewhat mixed.

Schwartz (1997) says these programs can be effective as long as their goal is to return the student to regular class as soon as possible.  Cortez & Montecel (1999) reviewed such alternate classes in Texas and found them to be “dumping grounds” for undesirable students. They also found that students were not provided additional support once they were placed in these classes.

Royer (1996) has described several successful examples of these classes and “schools of the second chance”.

Placement in an Alternate School

Several reviews of alternate schools were located in this search. Most of these sources indicate that alternate schools for troubled youth can be effective if they are adequately supported.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (1996) describes the characteristics of effective programs. They include: lower staff-student ratio, strong leadership, carefully selected and trained staff, a shared vision, district-wide support, innovative presentation of course content, good relations with other parts of the school system as well as other agencies, links to local workplaces and intensive counseling and monitoring.

The Southwest Regional Educational Laboratory (1995) has identified similar characteristics of the effective alternate schools, including a student choice to be involved, a focus on the whole student, caring relationships, an expanded role for the teacher into caregiving, a sense of community, high expectations of students, small size, relative autonomy, comprehensive program, counseling, safe environment, separation from traditional schooling, links to agency services. The Center for Prevention of School violence (1999) has a similar list of eight “lessons”.

Gottfredson (1998) examined the various types of alternative programs funded by the Justice Department of the U.S. She concluded that the program content and goals were too varied to form a conclusion about the effectiveness of alternative schools. Cox (19965), in a meta-analysis of these programs, found that they can improved academic and social skills but had little impact on delinquency.

Lipsey and Wilson (1997) synthesized the results of 117 studies of juvenile offender programs where the young offender was treated outside of an institutional setting. Alternate schools were often a big part of these programs. On average, these programs reduced recidivism by 50% if they included counseling, multisystemic therapy, training programs, parent training, were longer than 25 weeks, were implemented faithfully and used mental health professionals rather than juvenile justice personnel.

Temporary Challenge Programs (boot camps, wilderness camps)

All of the reviews and meta-analyses of boot camps and wilderness camps indicate that the temporary “shock treatment” approach is ineffective in correcting youth behaviours. Sherman et al (1998) in their review of effective crime prevention programs for the National Institute of Justice, report that boot camps are not effective in changing the behaviours of young offenders. They cite several studies including Cowles et al (1995), Cronin (1994), Henggeler & Shoenwald (1994) and Mackenzie & Souryal (1994). Gabor (1995) reported that Canadian police and educators did not view boot camps as effective. A 1997 report from the John Howard Society of Alberta reached the same conclusions after reviewing the literature and discussing examples in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. Zachoriah (1996) also reviewed boot camps and found them to be ineffective.

Lipsey & Wilson (1997) reviewed wilderness camps as part of their meta-analysis of young offender programs and found them to be ineffective. Similar findings were reported on wilderness camps from other reviews (Stiffman et al, 1996; Greenwood, 1986; Mulvey et al, 1993).

Expulsion from School/Educational Delivery in an Institutional Setting

Most of the evaluations of residential programs that delivered high quality alternative educational programs as part of the treatment program for young offenders were positive.

Garrett (1985), Greenwood (1986) and Mulvey et at (1993) found that residential programs that focused on academic and vocational outcomes were successful with young offenders. The U.S. Department of Education (1999) found that residential programs can reduce court appearances and eliminate continual suspensions from school. Effective programs provide anger and impulse control training, psychological counseling, effective academic and remedial instruction, vocational training, active family involvement, guidance and ongoing support when the student returns to regular school. Cornell (1999) suggests that such programs can be effective with young offenders.

Lipsey & Wilson (1997), in a meta-analysis of 83 studies of residential treatment and education of young offenders found that recidivism rates were reduced by 12% on average. They suggest this is cost effective. However, they also report that they found that several programs that are currently widely used  in the U.S. were not effective.

Stiffman et al (1996), after reviewing several programs, suggest that institutional programs are not effective with young offenders.

Fitzsimmons (1998), in reviewing several programs funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education, suggests that it is in the interest of the entire community when these troubled students are served well with appropriate programs.

C.             Behavioural Expectations (school discipline/student conduct policies)

This section discusses the use of school discipline policies, student conduct rules or school codes of behaviour. Once again, we are looking for immediate outputs in regards to a safer school for all students an din correcting or deterring the behaviour of offending students. We are also looking for the long-term outcomes of a safer community.

Little research was identified in this search in regard to the effective participation of students, teachers and administrators and parents, as well as other partners such as police, school district staff, other agencies in regards to zero-tolerance, sanctions, school discipline/codes or promoting positive school climates. Consequently, we have consolidated what we found on these items in this section.

We begin the section with a general outlook at discipline rules/codes, reporting on research on how they can be effective, what should be included and how they can be and are being implemented. We also look for policies that have been adapted to meet the needs of students with behavioural disorders and students who are at high risk of offending.

We then review the roles of each of the partners in the process of discipline/codes of conduct; students, parents, teachers and school administrators, school district administrators/trustees, police officers, other agencies, community-based voluntary organizations, education ministries, justice ministries and other ministries. We also discuss their respective roles in zero-tolerance, sanctions and maintaining a positive school climate.

General Advice on School Discipline/Codes of Conduct

There is a consensus among those that have reviewed school discipline/codes of conduct (Day et al, 1995; Gottfredson et al, 1996; Sherman et al, 1998; Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, 1998; Gushee, 1984) that school policies that set reasonable, clearly understood, actively enforced behavioural expectations, for students and staff can be effective in protecting the safety of all students as well as in correcting the behaviours of offending students.

Larson (1998) suggests that these codes or discipline policies be “judicious” in their approach, with students actively engaged in discussing their rights and responsibilities. The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice (1998) has produced a model set of rules that recognize the perspective of the school principal. Short (1994) argues for an approach that helps students to develop their mental and moral capacities.

Thompson (1994) suggests that these discipline rules and codes of conduct need to address the issues that are relevant to the school as well as combine content (the rules) and process (whereby students, parents and teachers become engaged in the rules). This perspective suggests that researchers ought to consider the respective roles of government, the school board and the school in formulating these rules.

If students, teachers and parents in a school are to be truly engaged, what scope should they have at the school level to decide what the rules should say? Does it make sense to have the all rules, or some rules, apply to all schools?

Finally, Gaustad (1992) has underlined the fact that good school rules are not enough. Good teaching, strong administrative leadership and long-term, school-wide planning and programs are required.

Lots of Advice on Content

There is no shortage of advice on what ought to be included in school codes of conduct. Day et al (1995) have listed 35 policy components. (These have been used in another part of this project so they are not reproduced here.) Thompson (1994) has recommended both content and process. Education ministry documents in almost all jurisdictions contain recommended or obligatory content. (See list in that part of the project report.) Gabor (1995) has listed some principles that should underline the policy content.

Day et al (1995) have stated that those policies need to be internally consistent, congruent with instructional programs, comprehensive in scope, have a  community (what this project calls a safe schools) approach, include supplemental consideration for aggressive and special needs students and address the root causes of violence. They also go on to list the criteria for effective policies:

Thompson (1994) has suggested a set of headings for such policies including: philosophy, purpose, terms, references to legislation, guidelines for prevention programs, guidelines for intervention incidents, procedures and reporting forms, visitors to schools.

Horner et al (2000) suggest that schools should identify, define, teach and support a small set of expected behaviours rather than presenting students with a laundry list of unacceptable behaviours. These over arching behaviours can include things such as: be safe, be respectful, be responsible, be kind. They also suggest that school districts develop specific policies for students who consistently violate behavioural expectations.

The U.S. Department of Education (1998), in cooperation with many of the education and justice organizations in that country, has also described the characteristics of effective policies. Their list includes: high expectations and support, reinforce positive behaviour/highlight sanctions against aggressive behaviours, inform all stakeholders, clear, broad-minded, fair rules, developed in collaboration with the community, are communicated clearly, include statements on harassment and violence, have specific consequences, reflect local values and the goals of the school, include implementation activities such as class discussions, school assemblies, student government, student participation in discipline teams, consequences are commensurate with offenses, negative consequence is accompanied by positive activity to teacher appropriate behaviour and zero-tolerance (automatic suspension) for weapons, drugs or alcohol with support provided to suspended or expelled students.

There are numerous sources, both Canadian and elsewhere, for schools and school districts, to consider in developing school codes of conduct (Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, nd; B.C. Safe School Centre, 1996; Pritchard, 1990; Thom & Thom, 1990; OSS 1992; Saleh, 1994; Perron, 1995; Alberta Teachers’ Association, 1981; B.C. Principals Association, 1999). They are too numerous to discuss here. As well, the National School Boards Association (1995) has online samples and advice to offer. In Canada, two online policy sample collections exist (Canadian Education Policy and Administration Network) and a larger collection being published as part of a document collection on safe and healthy schools (Canadian Association of Principals).

This project has provided a beginning to an in-depth policy analysis, but an interactive online resource that provides both policy development and implementation advice should be considered.

Research on Roles and Policy Choices at Different Levels

One issue that has not been adequately considered in the research is the respective roles of education authorities in the development and adoption of school discipline rules and codes of conduct. A logic model needs to be developed that reflects the actual capacities of the four levels of authority in the school system; government, education ministry, school board and school. A very rough model is presented here to illustrate the type of logic model required:

Possible Roles for Education Authority on School Discipline/Codes of Conduct Policies


Education Minister/Ministry

School Board/District Administrator

Shool/School Principal

Research into the efficacy of a model like this should be done in the context of descriptive studies analyzing how school discipline policies can be best implemented. For example, studies on other topics (McCall et al, 1999) have shown that implementation and roles in “open, loosely-coupled and bureaucratic” systems such as schools mean that it is virtually impossible for governments to simply establish policy without active consultation and ongoing support. To date, there has been little research into implementation issues in preventing school violence.

Sprague et al (1999) and Linquanto & Berliner (1994) have developed analyses and models that suggest that each school should make policy choices about “universal, selected or intensive/targeted” approaches to school discipline. Regular data collection and analysis of teacher referrals should guide this choice. These findings are consistent with the Education Testing Service (1999) analysis that urban public schools have different situations than suburban or private schools. Consequently, research evidence should be used to develop an adequate policy-making model.

Little Research on Implementation

Only two references were located in this search that described implementation approaches in Canada. The Auditor-General of B.C. (2000) found that all school districts and schools in that province have established appropriate codes of conduct. These policies were developed with input from students, staff and parents. However, that survey found that these codes of conduct are not always understood, followed or enforced, particularly by secondary students or staff.

Here are the survey results:

School Code/Rules Implementation

The Auditor-General study also found that the education ministry and Attorney-General of B.C. had published suitable guides and documents and that 70% of school principals had reviewed these guides.

Day et al (1995) conducted a survey of Canadian school board policies. They reported that a majority (48.8%) of these policies had sanctions/response approach. One-third (30%) used a behavioural expectations approach, 8.3% used a prevention/intervention model and only 3.7% were using a comprehensive, community approach. The groupings of these responses were done in the analysis of responses to 35 policy items.

The National Center on Education Statistics (1998) in the U.S. has reported on school discipline policies. They found that schools had these policies:

The Education Testing Service (1999) analysis of 1988 school data found these results:

Special Policies for Students With Behaviour Disorders

The need to develop specific policies and procedures for students with behaviour, emotional or other disorders has emerged as a concern in Canada and other countries (Steffanhagen, 2000; Canadian Mental Health Association, 2000; Shamsie & Hluchy, 1991). Sgro et al (2000, in a survey of school boards in Ontario, found that 4.6% of students had been diagnosed as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disordered.

There are several reviews and sources that were found in this search that suggested that there are two appropriate policies to respond to these needs: Positive Behaviour Support and Functional Behaviour Assessments (ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, 1993; Wager, 1999; Clark, 1998; Council for Exceptional Children, nd; Wielkiewicz, 1995; Rutherford & Welson, 1995; Sinclair et al, 1996; Gregg, 1996; Boder, 1997; Council for Exceptional Children, 1996). Other sources were found that elaborated on these options and their legal ramifications (Osborne, 1996; Maloney, 1998). Shatz (1994), in a comprehensive report to the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association, has also elaborated on the policies and programs that should be established.

Recently, the federal government in the U.S. has passed a law stating that all schools receiving federal funds for students with disabilities are required to implemented PBS and FBA procedures. In Canada, some provinces have prepared or revised their guidelines for special education services. An example of this can be found in B.C. (B.C. Ministry of Education, nd). Scott (2000) suggests that FBA procedures for these students require extensive training and support and should be exercised with caution.

Special Policies for Students At High Risk of Offending

Horner et al (2000) have suggested that alternative, specific policies need to be developed for disruptive students. They suggest that these policies and procedures include rapid, efficient responses, high intensity support for high intensity behaviour problems and a “culture of competence” where schools are required to invest time in every student.

Kupper (1999) in her review of programs for students with chronic behaviour problems had a similar analyses. Policy should direct programs to 1) formally assess the student and follow through, 2) coordinate multiple interventions, 3) address a constellation of related factors as well as the behaviours, 4) ensure the sustainability of the programs, 5) provide a coordination of proactive, corrective and instructional strategies, 6) be developmentally appropriate, 7) include parent education and family therapy, 8) intervene in early childhood whenever possible, 9) emphasize positive actions over punitive ones, 10) be fair, consistent and free of racial bias.

Several case studies for students with chronic behaviour problems were identified in this search (Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program, nd; Project Student Assistance, nd; Project SOAR, nd; Thorban, 1995; Stevens et al, 1996; Houck, 1997; Winborn, 1992; Putnam County School Board, 1996; Noguera, nd; Linker & Marion, 1995; Netolicky, 1998; Altschuler & Armstrong, 1994; Miller & Sonner, 1996).

However, researchers have yet to sort out the policy options for disruptive students and to test them in large scale, replicated studies. This would be an urgent area of concern for most school systems.

What Support is Needed from Partners?

For school discipline policies to be effective, each partner in the process needs to be involved. This review, however, found very little evidence to describe the most appropriate roles for these partners and the most effective ways to engage these partners, not only in discipline but in implementing sanctions, maintaining positive school climates or maintaining safe schools. Some documents describe actions that these partners should undertake, but few researchers have evaluated their efficacy in specific terms. These partners include students, teachers, school-based administrators, parents, school district administrators/trustees, police, other agencies, education ministry, other ministries.

Engaging Students

There is a growing body of knowledge in Canada and elsewhere on how to engage youth in public policy (Shannon & McCall, 1999). However, not enough of this research has gone into critical examination of outcomes. With respect to actively engaging students in discipline/crime prevention in schools, very little research evidence is available.

The following roles could be ascribed to students (U.S. Department of Education, 1996)

The first three roles are within the scope of this review.

Only a few Canadian references were found that described how students felt about following the school rules (Auditor-General of B.C. 2000; Macdonald & Martin, 1996). Gabor (1995), in focus group discussions with youth, reported that they perceived the application of the rules to be disorganized.

Gomes et al (2000), in a self-report survey of Alberta youth, reported that 56% said they had engaged in at least one delinquent behaviour in the past year. 15.6% reported that they had brought a weapon to school in the past year. Little evidence was found on how students can be involved effectively in the development of school policies.

As well, little evidence was located in this search on how students can be involved effectively in the implementation of discipline policies. Teen courts, where students are involved in school discipline teams, may be one answer (to be added)

The Auditor-General of B.C. (2000) and MacDonald (1998) have noted that encouraging students to report incidents and concerns at school is difficult. They fear reprisals or non-action by school staff. School Watch programs, where students are able to report incidents anonymously, may encourage students to report incidents. (Day et al, 1995)

The National Center on Education Statistics (1995) in the U.S. has described student strategies to avoid harm at school. Students were asked if they:

One-half of grade 6-12 students indicated they do not use any of these strategies. 25% reported they used a combination of these strategies. Twenty per cent (20%) said they used the single strategy of staying in a group.

No research was located in this search on whether it is effective to tell or teach students to use these strategies.

Case studies describing successful student driven programs such as Peacebuilders. School activities were located in this search (Kelder et al, 1998; Wiist et al, 1996; National Crime Prevention Council, nd). No meta-analysis or reviews of these school activity type programs was located. (Please note peer mediation programs were considered to be outside the scope of this inquiry.)

Support from Teachers Outside the Classrooms

The role of the teacher in managing the discipline in their classroom and teaching effectively is discussed later in this review. This section focuses on these non-classroom roles (U.S. Department of Education, 1996):

No data was located in this search about effective ways to engage teachers (and other school staff) in the development and adoption of school discipline or conduct policies. However, we can presume that there is an abundance of good research on this topic covered under the rubric of effective schooling. The Auditor-General (2000) study in B.C. indicates that both elementary and secondary teachers understood the school rules and followed them.

However, that same BC report noted that the school rules were enforced “mostly” by only 41% of “other staff”, including teachers. O’Brien (1998), in noticing the difference between classroom and non-classroom enforcement of discipline by teachers, found that teachers did not actively enforce rules because they were too busy, did not know the students, saw misconduct as typical and perceived a lack of support from administrators and teachers.

Although many collective agreements stipulate that teachers are not required to supervise lunchrooms or playgrounds, it seems reasonable that they be expected to enforce school rules as they walk through hallways. (The Auditor-General (2000) study of B.C. teachers went off a tangent about teachers not being willing to report on each other because of codes of ethics. This does not seem to be on point.) Do teachers actively enforce school rules when they interact with students outside of the classroom? That is the important question.

Other School Personnel

The school custodial staff, bus drivers, secretaries, voluntary or paid lunchroom or playground supervisors and even designated security staff all have a role to play in school discipline as well as sanctions and prevention.

Very few references were located in this search on the role and efficacy of using this personnel. Schwartz (1997) had practical suggestions for secretaries, bus drivers and custodial staff. The Auditor-General of B.C. (2000) found that playground and lunchroom supervisors were often untrained or were volunteers.

School Administrators

Kadel & Foliman (1993) and Hill & Hill (1994) have described the critical role of the school principal in maintaining school discipline, applying sanctions and promoting a positive school climate. With regard to discipline, they suggest:

MacDonald (1999) has shown how the perceptions of school administrators will lead them in different directions in responding to violence and enforcing school rules. How they conceptualize violence and discipline will influence their decision-making.

However, this review did not locate any descriptive studies showing how school principals actually enforce school discipline or which techniques are more effective in training or motivating school principals to do so. The only descriptive study we located (Auditor-General, 2000) reported that 95% of elementary school administrators and 99% of secondary school principals “mostly” or “often” enforced school codes of conduct.

The Role of Guidance Counselors, Social Workers and School Psychologists

The roles of these three professional positions were not well described in the searches conducted for this review. However, it is likely that this information is buried in the professional literature describing the appropriate practices of these types of school personnel.

In brief, the guidance counselor can act as a consultant (to teachers, students and parents) on school discipline issues (Bernshaff et al, 1994). The social worker has an important role in locating the necessary support services for offending or at-risk students (TBA). The school psychologist plays an important role in the trauma and aftermath of a crisis or violent confrontation (Young et al, 1996).


The role of parents in supporting school discipline has been relatively well described in the literature. These roles can include: (U.S. Department of Education, 1996)

Barth (1979) and Atkeson & Forehad (1979) report that programs to involve parents in reinforcing behavioural messages can reduce the number of problems.

A considerable number of sources were identified in this search that have suggested positive and practical ways that parents can support school rules and instill discipline in their children. Moorish & Boyer (2000) suggest 12 keys to positive discipline for parents and teachers. Reese et al (2000) describe the risk and protective factors that families can provide to their children. Worrel (1997) provides a number of blunt suggestions to parents from an educator’s perspective. Kersey (nd) describe effective and ineffective strategies. Freedman (1999) and the American Psychological Association (nd) give parents a number of strategies to avoid violence and deal with teasing.

However, to involve parents in these ways, we need to be informed about parent views and perceptions about discipline. Friesen-Ford (1995) surveyed parents in Saskatchewan about their opinions on student discipline. McCarthy (1995) has described how messages from home and school can become mixed. Clancy (1992) and Rich (1985) have reflected upon parental perspectives about discipline.

There is considerable research on how to involve parents, through schools, in social development and health promotion (Negeow, 1999; Shannon & McCall, 1996). There is also considerable evidence on how to involve parents in schools, including parents of at-risk youth. However, that research is just beginning to be applied to violence prevention.

Flaherty (1999) has discussed how to recruit and retain at-risk parents in violence prevention training programs. Parents in that study emphasized the need for a positive experience in initial sessions and for communications between sessions. Salomon (1998), in a small exploratory study, reported that parents of children with and without behaviour problems reported equal levels of support that they provided to their children. However, the parents of non-violent children believed more strongly that they had to assist their children in times of trouble.

The John Howard Society (1997) reviewed the impact of parental liability laws, that make small financial claims on parents for the offenses of their children. This report suggested that this strategy was not effective in fostering parental involvement in their children’s lives and tends to target poor families disproportionately.

The Auditor-General of B.C. (2000) found that 91% of elementary school parents “mostly” or “often” supported school policies. However, only 66% of secondary school parents did so.

A Health Canada project (Roberts et al, In Progress) will report on best practices in youth drug abuse prevention. This report will include an analysis of programs like Families and Schools Together (FAST).

School District Administrators/Trustees

There has been some research on the policies that school boards should adopt in regard to school discipline and school violence. There is likely to be legal advice to school district partners on liability and the student/parent appeals process. However, there has been little analytical research on roles such as:

No items were located in this search that examined the effectiveness of these activities in supporting school discipline policies or peaceful school climates.

Police Officers/Police Departments

Police officers can be supportive of individual school discipline policies by:

Police departments can assist school districts and schools by:

This search did not locate significant numbers of evaluative research studies on these roles. Most of the items either described unevaluated programs or outlined potential strategies. A case study of school resource offices located in this search (Scheffer, 1987) reported that SROs teach about safety and justice issues, counsel students and conduct investigations. Key issues identified were: student-officer relationships, guidelines for counseling troubled students, officer selection procedures, training and evaluation of officers.

The Center for the Prevention of School Violence (nd) has published a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice on what is know about school resource officers. That review provides a clear definition of the SRO role from U.S. federal departments. A historical review of SRO development in the U.S. is provided, as well as a description of how they are deployed. Based on surveys, the Center attributes three key roles to SROs; law enforcement, law-related education and law counselor/advisor. They note how those three roles will vary in response to the conditions in the school. Schwartz (1997) notes that the law enforcement role of the SRO will dominate in violence-prone schools. Johns & Keenan (1997) suggest that schools and police clearly define when and how the police are to be notified. 

The Center identifies five key issues for future investigation:

They report on a North Carolina survey of school principals where 88% rated the SRO program as being effective. A US Department of Education (1999) guide recommends the use of School Resource Officers.

Ryan and Mathews (1995) presented an extensive list of school-based police programs offered by police departments. However, few evaluations of these programs were available and the report did not provide a critical framework. Similarly, a Quebec based coalition, the Table provinciale de concertation sur la violence, les jeunes et le milieu scolaire (1999), has published a lengthy guide, with both recommended principles and procedures. A website for school resource officers (nd) has an archive of discussions that are helpful and practical. Bartlett (1994) has described a similar model protocol statement to guide joint investigations. Wagar (1999) has described school-based police programs in a general way, as well as the roles that school resource officers can play.

A limited number of evaluative and descriptive studies were located.

Gomes et al (2000) report that 53% of Alberta students in their survey had a school resource officer or an officer who regularly visited their school. This would accord with Ryan and Mathews (1995) assessment that three-quarters of police departments in Canada offered school-based police programs of some description. Most student contact with police was through a police presentation at school (Gomes et al, 2000).

The National Crime Prevention Council (nd) has described the importance of community policing. Case studies, mostly American, are cited in that report showing that community policing policies and programs can reduce crime rates. Little mention is made of the role that schools play in such community policing programs in this NCPC overview.

There have been some evaluations of police-sponsored educational programs in schools. These include Magruff, The Junior Police Academy and DARE. Most of the evaluations of the DARE program have been negative, showing that this program does not result in changed behaviours (Roberts et al, In Progress). However, many earlier reports (Carter, 1995; Ringwalt et al, 1994; Silva, 1994) have been positive in their descriptions of the reach and the popularity of the program.

Hughes (1997) reports on a California investigation into the training provided to school resource officers.

A case study from Houston, Texas, (Houston Police, 1997) noted that when police officers assisted schools in truancy programs, student absenteeism was reduced.

Other Agencies/Other Professionals

The search undertaken for this project did not locate resources on the roles that other publicly funded agencies should undertake in cooperation with schools to prevent violence. These include:

No descriptive or evaluative sources were identified in this search on any of these roles that need to be played by such publicly funded agencies. School personnel, if no one else, need to articulate their needs to these agencies. Research is urgently required to evaluate the efficacy of such programs, policies and practices.

Community-Based Voluntary Organizations

The U.S. Department of Education (1996) has described the roles that community and business groups can play in school discipline, and school-based violence prevention.

Community groups can:

Business groups and local employers can:

A significant example of these two groups coming together can be found in the creation of community-based youth justice coalitions. These coalitions can:

This search did not locate many descriptive or evaluative research studies on the role of community groups, business groups/local employers or community-based youth justice coalitions.

One published case study (Well Community Council, 1997) was located. Unpublished materials were also obtained from the Alternatives for Youth Coalition in Muskoka, ON (Berry, 2000).

Further research is needed on the relationship and cooperative programs that community and business groups can undertake in cooperation with schools.

The Education Ministry

A policy has already been tentatively described for the education ministry earlier in this paper. Other program roles that should be described are:

This project found no published materials on these or other roles that education ministries can play in promoting safe schools, with the exception of the Auditor-General’s (2000) report in B.C. That report noted that several appropriate guides had been published (some had been used extensively by schools, others had not). The BC Safe School Centre was playing a facilitating and communications role reasonably well but need to upgrade its electronic capability.

Other work in this area has identified the fact that safe school coordinators positions had been created in several jurisdictions in Canada (NF, NS, NB, ON, AB, BC, NT). However, no descriptive studies of the role that might be played effectively by that personnel were located in our search.

Other Ministries

The roles of Justice, Law Enforcement, Social Services and Health Ministries in regards to working with schools has been largely ignored in any published works on school violence.

In general, one could reasonably expect such ministries to:

The Minister of Justice/Attorney-General are likely to play a more active role than others. They should likely play these roles:

Once again, this search found no descriptive or evaluative studies on the roles that these ministries should be playing.


D. Maintaining A Positive School Climate

This final section of this review examines behavioural/discipline/security strategies to maintain a positive school climate. (Please note again that instructional and formal social support strategies such as peer mediation are not included in this review. They form part of a broader safe school approach.)

This section first addresses the notion of a positive school climate approach, assessing the impact of this approach based on research identified in this search. Then four types of comprehensive, preventive program strategies are briefly discussed; improving school capacity, effective school-wide behaviour support, peace building and anti-bullying/anti-violence. Third, several specific strategies for prevention (improving classroom management, school uniforms, security precautions, early identification and truancy prevention) and intervention (individualized programs, crisis management and multi-systemic treatment) are reviewed briefly.

Positive School Climates Work

Day et al (1995) have cited the work of Weissberg and Elias (1993) to argue the case for a comprehensive, school-based approach to promoting student well-being and health. This effectiveness of the approach has been well documented in the research literature and a consensus on that approach has been established in Canada. (Canadian Association for School Health, 1990). A recent study (McCall et al, 1999) reported that almost all education ministries and one-third of school districts explicitly support this approach. Positive school climate strategies are an essential element of this approach.

The idea of promoting a positive school climate to promote positive behaviour has been discussed in education for several decades in Canada (Watson, 1985; Janosz, 1993; Dray 1994; Canadian Education Association, 1994; Sackney, 1994; Jones, 1996; Zak, 1998) and elsewhere (Howard et al, 1987; Brophy, 1996; Suarez, 1992).

The application of school climate improvement strategies to violence prevention has also been well discussed. Battisch (1997) and Brian-Meisdelt & Selman, 1996) has demonstrated the correlation to anti-social behaviours.

To improve the climate and consequently the safety of the school, a number of coordinated interventions are required. A number of sources were identified in this search and have described the necessary components of these coordinated approaches to positive school climate. Walker et al (1990) argue that the school can play a central role in delivering these interventions. Johns and Keenan (1997) list other components; including a formal evaluation of the safety of the school, following conflict resolution principles, combating truancy, working with police, deciding when police will be notified, dress codes, guidelines for legal searches, sexual harassment guidelines, procedures to deal with perpetrators, gang prevention, crisis intervention for traumatic events and school security procedures.

The U.S. Department of Education (1996) has defined the characteristics of a safe school, as have other documents (B.C. Safe School Centre, 1998). Schwartz (1997) has suggested that schools need a safety committee and coordinator. Aleem & Moles (1993) have emphasized that schools should emphasize academics, firm/fair/consistent standards and an ethic of caring. Gottfredson et al (1993) have emphasized that schools need a sense of order. The New Brunswick (1999) Positive Learning Environment policy is an example of this approach.

There is clear evidence in the research that this comprehensive approach to promoting positive school climate is effective in reducing antisocial behaviours. Gottfredson (1998) in a rigorous review of effective PSC programs for the National Institute of Justice, reports that building the school’s capacity to offer an ordered, positive learning environment is an effective way to protect the safety for all students. She also describes the necessary elements of the school’s capacity to do so. Stiffman et al (1996) formed similar conclusions in their review. Longitudinal evaluations of examples of this approach have demonstrated their impact (Gottfredson 1986; 1998; Goldstein, 1999; Positive Behaviour Support, 1999; Royal & Rossi, 1997).

The Auditor-General of B.C. (2000) reported that a comprehensive program (Effective Behaviour Support) has been implemented on a widespread basis in that province. Staffs in those schools reported significant reductions in the numbers of incidents. Day et al (1995) reported that this "prevention/intervention" approach was stipulated in 18.3% of school board policies surveyed.

There appears to be four similar ways in which these comprehensive approaches to improving school climate can be implemented in schools; overall school improvement, anti-bullying/violence and peace building.

School improvement or "invitational education" approaches to reducing school violence have been discussed in Canada (Conrod, 1999; Campbell, 1991) and case descriptions have been published (Baril, 1989; Hindle & Sedo, 2000). Schwartz (1996) and Howard et al (1999) have reviewed the research and found school improvement strategies to be effective in reducing school violence.

Ducklow (1998) has described a prime example of the schoolwide Effective Behaviour Support (EBS) system, a program being used in many Canadian schools. A Website document (schoolwide PBIS) explains the components of this approach. These elements reflect closely the findings of the research review (Cotton, 1990) on effective schoolwide discipline practices. This schoolwide and positive approach ensures that school rules are seen and understood by students in a positive light. This EBS approach also ensures that staff are actively committed to and monitoring their school environment (Fitzsimmons, 1998).

Fitzsimmons (1998) and Korinek (nd) have described the components and the impact of schoolwide discipline systems. Similar reviews of the research (U.S. Office of Special Education, nd; ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, nd; Schoolwide Behavioral Management Systems, 1997) have all found this approach to be effective.

Comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-violence programs have also been demonstrated to be effective. Oleweus (1991), with his work on bullying in Norway, was the pioneer in these programs. Peplar et al (1993), Zeigler & Peplar (1993) and Cornell (1999) have reviewed the research on these programs and found them to be effective. Cole (1999) has provided a framework to describe the comprehensive nature of these anti-violence programs. That National Crime Prevention Centre (nd) has described the important role of the school in responding to bullying.

Successful case studies of anti-bullying and antiviolence programs were also found in this search, including the London Family Court Clinic (Suderman et al, 1996) program, a program evaluated by the Toronto Board of Education (Brown, nd), the Resolving conflict Creatively Program (Lantier et al, 1996) and an assessment of bullying prevention programs in Scotland (Mellor, 1995).

The "peaceful schools" model is another example of a comprehensive, schoolwide approach to maintaining positive school climates. In Canada, the League of Peaceful Schools (1998) is active in Nova Scotia, PEI and Saskatchewan. A very similar approach is being promoted in Alberta under the banner of "safe and caring schools". (Mather, 1999). That programs philosophy has been well articulated in foundation documents for that initiative. The Muttart Foundation is coordinating a three year formative evaluation of the initiative.

Bodine et al (1995) has reviewed the "peaceful schools", based on Kreidler‘s definition, as including cooperation, communication, tolerance, positive emotional expression and conflict resolution. Six skill areas are also need to achieve a peaceful school; including building a peaceful school climate, understanding climate, understanding peacemaking, mediation, negotiating and group problem solving.

Other evaluations of similar "peaceful school" programs have been conducted by Haynes (1996), Orpinas et al (2000), Day et al (1995) and Embry et al (1996). All showed positive impacts on student behaviour.

Prevention-Oriented Supports to Positive School Climate

Research in the following areas indicate that schools can support a peaceful school climate strategy through the use of several behavioural/discipline/security activities.

Improving Classroom Management

Several Canadian sources were located in this search that highlight the view that good school discipline begins in the classroom (Kruk, 1984; Lam et al, 1996, Canadian Education Association, 1996; Bickmore, 1998; Maintaining Order, 2000).

Practical advice to teachers is available from several sources identified for this review, including King (nd), ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children (1990), Gross-Davis et al (nd), (nd), (nd), Evertson et al (1994), Emmer et al (1994).

A five year case study on the effect of improved classroom management (Solomon et al, 1980) showed that all children can become more supportive and respectful of each other. Bennett (1999) emphasizes the importance of this "everyday stuff" in the classroom where effective teachers, good dialogue with students and well planned group work for students can be very effective.

The rigorous evaluation of case studies done by Gottfredson (1998) found that changes in teacher effectiveness resulted in greater attachment to the school. Seven longitudinal studies were reviewed in this meta-analysis.

School Uniforms/Dress Code

The research on the effectiveness of requiring school uniforms or dress codes is mixed. Isaacson (1998) has reviewed the arguments for and against this prevention strategy. She also outlines five policy choices; 1) no dress code, 2) dress code with general goals, 3) itemized dress code throughout the school district, 4) a voluntary school uniform, 5) a mandatory school uniform policy. She suggests three issues need clarification: Are these dress codes legal? Do they actually restore order? Are less restrictive dress codes (e.g. preventing gang colors) more effective?

Anecdotal evidence (Potner, 1996; McLean, 1999; U.S. Department of Education, 1996) is often used to support the use of school uniforms. But the research evidence is mixed (White, 2000). Paliokas & Rist (1993) suggest they have no impact. Coben et al (1994) suggest that they do. Gluckman (1996) suggests that dress codes can reduce gang activity in the school. The U.S. Department of Education (1999) has published an manual on how to use school uniforms.

Despite the mixed evidence, school uniforms and dress codes appear to be making a comeback. This project has identified several examples of school uniform/dress code policies in Canada. Requirements for school uniforms are being established in Ontario (Canadian Press, 2000) and Alberta (Suidal, 2000). Ontario is also introducing a requirement that student sing the national anthem (Canadian Press, 2000).

The Education Testing Service (1999) quotes a NAESP survey of schools that reported that 11% of U.S. elementary schools have uniforms policies and an additional 15% are considering them. White (2000) reports on an American parent survey that reports that 18% of parents say their children are in school uniforms and that 56% of those parents support these policies.

Security Precautions

A number of behavioural and security precautions can be taken to support a positive school climate and an ordered, school discipline. These include:

There were a number of sources identified for each of these items (noted above). However, in each case, there were no definitive findings of research evidence that any particular precaution was effective, by itself, in preventing violence in schools. Some argue that the introduction of these precautions into a school counteracts other efforts to create a positive school climate. Others argue that some of these measures can support the safety of students (Hernandez, 1996). This search did not find any evidence to support either side of that debate.

Early Identification of Potential Offenders

The research evidence about effective and appropriate ways to identify students who may be at risk of offending is not limited to the U.S. However, this search did not locate sufficient evidence to evaluate the impact of such strategies.

Carter & Stewin 91999), in an analysis of school violence in the Canadian context, have used a formal diagnostic tool to identify psychopathology among junior high male students. Fey et al (2000) and Lafee (2000) suggest caution against the use of police profiling techniques.

Junke et al (1999), Lumsden (2000) and Walker et al (1998) suggest that informal, professional and normal assessment done by caring teachers can be adequate to identify at risk students and refer them to intervention or support services.

Truancy Prevention

John & Keenan (1997) suggest that truancy prevention should be part of a comprehensive approach to school violence. Such programs should be implemented through community coordination, enforcement, recognition of good attendance and parenting classes.

The U.S. Department of Education (1996) included a chapter on truancy prevention in its manual on safe and drug free schools. That chapter provides examples, program characteristics and principles for effective programs in truancy prevention.

Gullatt & Lemoine (1997) have reviewed evaluations of truancy prevention programs and conclude that such programs can be effective at reducing student absenteeism.

Positive School Climate Interventions

The U.S. Department of Education (1999) has defined a number of principles that should guide the efforts to intervene with students who are misbehaving at school. These guidelines form a beginning for this brief overview of interventions that schools can use to intervene so that troubled youth are well supported and positive school climate can be maintained. These principles are:

These principles have applications to all of the following specific interventions.

Individualized Education/Behaviour Plans

Sherman et al (1998), in their review of what works in crime prevention, found that individualized reintegration programs that taught and counseled youth in anger management were effective in facilitating re-entry into school. They also report that intensive coaching of high risk youth is effective as the intervention.

Schwartz (1997) suggests that these individualized plans should always aim to return the student to regular classes.

Garrett (1985) found, in a meta-analysis, that academically-oriented programs for at-risk youth were successful because they reestablished real opportunity for youth. Similarly, Stiffman et al (1996) found that vocational programs were successful.

Sherman et al (1998) found that individual and peer group counseling were ineffective in correcting the behaviours of troubled youth. Peer group counseling may end up being counterproductive.

Crisis Intervention (Aftermath (Postvention)

The school needs to have immediate access to crisis response procedures and support teams in the event of a traumatic incident (Collison et al, 1987). As well, aftermath or "postvention" services need to be available for victims and bystanders to reduce the lingering effects of such incidents (Braeden & Braeden, 1988; O’Neill, 1992). The U.S. Department of Education (1999) has detailed the things needed for such crisis response systems. A Canadian example of such crisis response procedures can be found in B.C. Ministry of Education (1999).

Coordinated Case Management

The aspect of coordinated case management considered in this review is to the extent to which school staff are involved in the decision-making and communications about troubled youth. The Canadian School Boards’ Association (1996) has published a guide on this issue and is implementing a national project that should provide substantive information.

The Auditor-General of B.C. (2000), in its review of B.C. Safe School policies, found that case management is generally poor in that province, particularly for children who have been assigned resource workers from the Ministry for Children and Families. Better information sharing is required between case workers and school staff. That study found that 79% of teachers who sought information from case workers had difficulty in obtaining it.

There were no entries found in this search that evaluated or describe how coordination should occur or is occurring with juvenile court personnel.


Descriptive studies should be done to determine the current state of school and classroom social climate in Canadian schools.

Analysis of Provincial/Territorial Guidelines


The following preliminary analysis was done to determine the policy context for schools and school districts across Canada. Education ministries are taking divergent paths in determining the basic approach that schools should be using in response to perceived increasing levels of school violence. This analysis, when linked with a repeat of the work done by Day et al (1995) and with a national survey of current existing school codes of conduct/approaches to school violence, should help policy makers determine if their decisions are having the desired impact.


Policy documents were requested or retrieved from the websites of all 13 education ministries in Canada. In a  manner similar to Day et al (1995) as well as that of Gottredson (1998) and Coben et al (1994), a categorization system was established to illuminate the policy choices being made by the jurisdictions.

The diagram below shows the different choices that can be made by education authorities. As well, this study sought to determine if those policy choices were “required” or “recommended “ by the guidelines or directives.

In comparing this analysis to that of Day et al, (1995), we decided to separate “zero tolerance” policies (i.e. automatic suspension or expulsion for serious offenses) from a “response/sanctions” approach. The zero tolerance approach is relatively new and somewhat confused in its understanding across Canada. Consequently we have defined it carefully and looked for it in the policy documents.

Further, we delineated  four other types of approaches:

1)  “behavioural expectations” (school discipline/student codes)

2) “positive school climate” approaches (combining prevention and intervention strategies

3) “safe school” approaches.

4) safe community approaches

Day et al used three categories:

1) expectations for behaviour

2) identification/prevention (note intervention is not mentioned)

3) community

We also noted that policy documents were being produced on two separate issues since the Day et al study. Consequently, we have looked for policy supplements on Students with Behaviour Disorders and Policies for Disruptive Students (Non-disabled)


This study is a preliminary contents analysis only. Ministry policy documents were scrutinized to determine only general policy choices. A more detailed analysis would be enlightening but was beyond the scope of the present inquiry.

Key Findings:

Documents Analyzed:

Newfoundland and Labrador             

Programming for Individual Needs: Policy, Guidelines and Resource Guide on Discipline, School Violence and Safe Schools Teams (1996)
Balancing Students Rights and Responsibilities for Primary Grades (In Progress)

Prince Edward Island                           

Awaiting response to request

Nova Scotia                                          

Discipline Handbook for Nova Scotia Schools (1993) and Discipline Policy in Nova Scotia Schools (1993)                                                                (Currently being revised)

New Brunswick                    

Positive Learning Environment Policy (1999)


Superior Council (Advisory to Minister) report Ministry Advisory Document on Behaviour problems


Ontario Schools Code of Conduct
School Uniform Announcement


Special Education Guidelines


Overview of Caring, Respectful Schools Initiative


Safe and Caring Schools Initiative Description/Binder
(Alberta School Act amended in 1999 to require school boards to ensure caring, safe school.)

British Columbia                   

BC Safe Schools Planning Guide
Focus on Suspension: A Resource for Schools
Keeping Schools Safe: An Administrators Guide to Safe Schools
Teaching Students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder


Reference to School Code being developed under new Education Act

Northwest Territories                          

Junior High School Handbook -Inclusive Schooling- (Based on Ministry School Reform Plans)


Education Act Students and Parents (Currently under review)

Policy Choices on School Safety:  Required or Recommended Directives to Schools

Automatic Suspension for serious Offenses (Zero Tolerance)

Sanctions Approach

Behaviour Expectations (School Discipline or Code Approach)

Positive School Climate Approach

Safe Schools Approach (Partnership between community and school)

Community Approach

(Community is lead agent)

Policy Supplement for Behaviour Disorders

Policy Supplement for Disruptive Students








Published in cooperation with local school boards

Published in cooperation with local school boards

Published in cooperation with local school boards

Published in cooperation with local school boards












Recommended by CSE

Recommended by CSE

Guide published





Required (Police Protocol)


Ministry plays consultative role only

Ministry plays consultative role only

Ministry plays consultative role only

Ministry plays consultative role only

Guidelines on emotional behaviour problems students


Recommended in principles of CRS initiative

Recommended in principles of CRS initiative

1989 Handbook being revised






Inschool Suspensions Recommended



Policy on FAS students


New School Act will include Code of Conduct

Considering EBS Program


Implied in ministry guidelines about school reform




Analysis of Sample School Board Policies/School Codes and Procedures


To begin the development of a model process and suggested content for school board and school Codes of Conduct for use by school-based administrators. 


This preliminary analysis of a convenience sample of 125 school board policies on student conduct, suspensions and other topics related to school safety is intended to lay the groundwork for an interactive discussion of school policy issues. An online search for school board policies and an examination of the two Canadian school board policy databases led to the identification of 50 sample school board policies, and several provincial/territorial guidelines. Then a rudimentary analysis was done to categorize these sample policies into five general categories and to describe the coverage these policies gave to both relevant content and effective policy-making process. The work of Day, Golench, MacDougall and Beals-Gonzalez (1995), Gottfredson (1998) and Coben et al (1994) were the primary sources for content. For process, a summary prepared for the Canadian Association of School Administrators (McCall, 1995) was used as the primary source. The collection of policy documents collected for this review can be found at and those for school dress codes can be found at:

Key Findings

There are three key findings from this preliminary policy investigation.

  1. The variety of policy samples and their various components and wordings show that it is possible to develop a comprehensive school policy and procedures framework that can respond adequately to inappropriate behaviour, promote fair student conduct/discipline policies, create a positive social environment in the school and ensure that schools work with their communities to promote safety and prevent crime

  2. Most school board policies and school discipline/conduct procedures are narrow in scope and do not contain all the elements recommended by the research evidence. This finding is similar to the earlier work of Day et al (1995).

  3. A process to enable school-based administrators and others to work through these policy issues with their students, parents and staff would lead to better school conduct/discipline policies and safe schools. The use of an interactive web site should be explored in this regard.

Good Policy-Making Combined with a Good Understanding of the Issues and Potential Solutions

The research on effective school policies clearly indicates that policy-making is a cyclical process. A cyclical model (McCall, 1998) therefore has been used in this rudimentary analysis. As well, effective school policies cover the relevant issues as well as potential long-term solutions. The work of Day et al (1995) has been adapted here for this purpose. This analysis includes both school board policies as well as school-level decisions about their school code of conduct.


A Checklist and Guide for School Board Policies and School Codes of Conduct

1           Problem Formulation

A common understanding of the problem, as well as a shared view of the role of the school in responding to the problem, are needed as the foundation for the school board policy and school codes/procedures. This phase should also provide information on how the problem was handled in the past, where it fits with current priorities and what policy options are open to the school board and school.


qFocus Groups

qNeeds Assessment

qResources Inventory

qMeeting with agencies

qMeetings with students, teachers, parent representatives

qReview of laws, regulations, directives, school board policies

1.Is the problem seen as being primarily a:

qstudent driven problem

qparent/family issue

qissue for police/courts

qa key issue for all schools? some schools?

qa problem for other agencies

qa problem for the entire community

2.Is there reliable data on the size of the problem? (statistics on incidents, recent surveys, anecdoted evidence, etc.)?

3.Has the nature of the problem been discussed widely in circulated reports or documents?

2           Policy/ School Agenda

The policy issue needs to be placed on the agenda of the school board and of each school.

qAdvice from a committee is sought

qIssue is raised by an elected/appointed representative

qIssue is identified in goal-setting, planning or priority-setting process

qThe regular, recognized policy-making process is started.

1.Was the issue raised because of an incident?

2.Was the issue raised because of a directive from the government or school board?

3.If one group or one person is raising the issue, how will others react?

3.          Policy/School Code Formulation

In this phase, a broad cross-section of public and professional opinion is gathered. Strengths and weaknesses of current policies are assessed. Formal consultations and/or surveys are undertaken.

qConsultation with police/law enforcement

qConsultation with students, including at-risk youth

qConsultation with parents, including at-risk parents

qConsultations with teachers

qReview of collective agreements

qReview of budgets

1.Does the policy/school code include a long-term vision/goal statement on

qhow inappropriate behaviours will be managed

qwhat behaviour is expected of all members of the school community

qhow a peaceful school community will be promoted and problems prevented

qhow the overall safety of the school/community will be maintained

2.Does the policy/school code ensure respect for the principles of natural justice and due process?

4.          Policy/School Code Adoption

This is when the school board and/or school, recognizes publicly that the problem needs to be addressed in a positive, long-term manner. The decision-making process needs to be transparent. In addition to policy/school code goals and objectives, the policy statement needs to address such topics as:

  • administrative responsibility for the policy implementation and evaluation

  • changes to staff or school roles

  • budget needs

  • inservice training needs

  • curriculum needs

qPublic hearings

qReview by lawyers/experts

qLinks with school board or school mission and priorities

qAdvice from an ad-hoc representative committee on the content of the policy/school code

qAdditional support to students so they can truly participate

1.What is the basic orientation of the policy/school code? (Choose one)

qresponse/sanction only

qbehavioural expectations (school conduct/discipline only)

qpositive climate approach (identification/prevention)

qsafe school/community approach (comprehensive promotion/prevention

2.Does the policy cover all of the inappropriate behaviours?



?threats/bullying harassment


?physical assaults


?verbal assault

?sexual assault

3.Does the policy cover the potential sanctions and how they are to be used?

?report to parents

?additional assignments


?restitution to victim

?service to school/community

?in school suspension

?short-term suspension

?long-term suspension

?placement in alternate class

?placement in alternate school

?expulsion/placement in alternate institution

4.Does the policy stipulate mandatory sanctions for some behaviour? or are there guidelines to be followed when school authorities exercise discretion? Is there a process to ensure that the meaning is understood in the same way by students, teachers, ???? parents?

5.Does the policy cover and establish  ways to recognize positive behaviours? How?

?peaceful schools approach

?positive behaviour support

6.Does the policy/school code ensure that due process, adequate right of appeal and principles of natural justice are respected?

7.Does the policy cover ways to identify risks and prevent incidents?

  • crisis intervention

  • interagency coordination

  • police protocol

  • students with disorders

  • school  security

  • early identification and referral procedures

8.Does the policy place student behaviour within the content of a safe school and community?

  • conflict resolution education

  • peer mediation

  • security measures

  • police school resource officers

  • mentoring programs

  • anti-racist education

  • substance abuse prevention

  • parent/guardian involvement

  • community involvement

9.Does the policy stipulate aftermath  and reintegration services?

  • individualized plans

  • aftermath counselling

5.          Policy/School Code Implementation

This phase should include descriptions of how school board and school departments will play a role in implementing the policy of school code. Goals for involving parents, staff, students, police and other agencies should be described. Strategies such as inducements, capacity-building or staff development should also be described.

qa timetable for implementation is part of the policy

qthe plan for communicating the policy each year is part of the policy

qa communications network within the school district or school should be established to support implementation and feedback.

1.Have teachers been trained in the use of the new policy/school code?

2.How are students to be informed about the new policy/school code?

3.How are parents to be informed about the new policy/school code?

4.Will police and other agencies be involved in the implementation of the new policy/school code? How?

6           Policy/School Code Evaluation

The policy statement or school code should also include:

a stipulated reporting procedure for reports back to the school board/principal

a process to gather formative or process evaluations

the criteria for the success of the policy/school code

a process to gather summative (impact) data.

qparticipant surveys

qelectronic feedback

qanalysis of reports, documents

qregular meetings with staff on policy

qregular meetings with students, including at-risk students

qregular meetings with parents including at-risk parents

1.What administrative data (incidents, reports, etc.) will be collected to evaluate the impact of the policy/school code? Does everyone agree that these data are meaningful?

2.How will students be able to provide feedback? Will they be surveyed?

3.How will staff be able to provide feedback? Will they be consulted?

4.How will parents be able to provide feedback? Will they be surveyed?

5.How will police and other agencies be able to provide feedback? Will they be consulted?




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