Recent racial allegations in schools have lead schools to rethink the process for implementing discipline for Black students which include discipline referrals. Without such strategies racial allegations will continue to be at the center of civil litigation for many schools. Many of the problems associated with discipline referrals that are deemed racist are associated with the information submitted. Teachers are on the front line and in most cases, as a group, they will submit the majority of discipline referrals. In most schools, teachers may submit anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of the discipline referrals. Once a discipline referral is submitted it is up to the administrator to investigate and make a judgment.

One of the major ways to eliminate the perception of classroom racism is to ensure that all discipline referrals have no grey areas.

If the disciple referral has any grey areas Black parents and students could feel discriminated against. If teachers are not properly trained on how to write a discipline referral, Black parents and students will have a platform to file discrimination lawsuits.

For example, one of the major grey areas for discipline referrals is student fights. There is a major difference between a fight and an assault. In common law, assault is the act of creating apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact with a person. An assault is carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. It is both a crime and a tort and, therefore, may result in either criminal and/or civil liability.

A fight is different than an assault in that a fight is when two people decide to assault each other. In a school setting, if two students decide to assault each other, then both students should receive the same consequence.

The mistake is made when the description of the fight that is submitted on a discipline referral is subjective and not objective. If the fight is between a well know discipline offender and a “good” student or if a boy and girl get into an altercation, the discipline referral is written in such a manner that it convicts one student while exonerating the other student. The bottom line is that if two students assault each other, it is a fight and both students should receive the same consequence. In that way no one can allege that either the administrator or teacher is racist.

In my experiences as an administrator I have seen this take place. Two students would get into a fight. The student who was known to be involved in other incidents is the assumed aggressor and the discipline referral is written as such. If the other student is considered a “good” student I have found that teachers, staff members and even administrators will attempt to come to their rescue. Even though both students assaulted each other, the culture of the school will attempt to force discrimination to prevail for some good.

In the above mentioned case, both students should receive the same consequence. We must take the subjective aspects out of school discipline and make school discipline objective by making discipline referrals objective.

Since teachers submit the majority of discipline referrals we must teach teachers to submit objective discipline referrals. The following process will enhance the discipline referral process for teachers.

  1. Write out everything that you can recall about the incident
  2. Write our how you felt as the incident unfolded
  3. Write out the behavior of each participant
  4. Submit a discipline referral for each participant which only includes statements regarding the behavior.

When teachers follow the above mentioned process, the grey areas the contribute to racism in education when teachers submit discipline referrals will become non-existent.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012


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