Indianapolis Public Schools Adopt Restorative Justice Practices and New Code of Conduct as Alternatives to Zero Tolerance Discipline

Restorative justice models are gradually replacing zero-tolerances discipline models in schools across the country as awareness of the school-to-prison pipeline increases. Zero-tolerance policies remove students from the classroom based on mandated predetermined minimum penalties (such as suspension and expulsion) for a wide degree of rule violations, and place them in the hands of the justice system.  ACS is a committed partner to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, as outlined in a recent report, ‘Better than Zero’ that details how alternative discipline can zero-tolerance policies to break the school-to-prison pipeline and through our work with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Forward Promise grantees.

After coming under scrutiny through evidence that one in five students in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) was suspended during the 2013-2014 school year, school officials have moved toward restorative justice practices to replace their zero-tolerance discipline model.  IPS’ racial disparities around discipline came under investigation by Indiana University professor Brea Perry. Perry’s research on this topic was published in the American Sociological Review in November 2014. In September 2014, representatives from the Greater Indianapolis NAACP, the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana, and Indiana University spoke before a panel of Indiana lawmakers sitting on the Interim Study Committee on Education to report high suspension rates of black students.

Following the release of Perry’s research and the testimony of education experts at the Interim Study Committee on Education, IPS developed a new code of conduct, released in late July 2015, aimed at reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions and supporting positive student behaviors.

Some of the new discipline policies found in IPS’ code of conduct include:

  • Students will be prohibited from recording cell phone videos of violence of fights in school.
  • Students may be disciplined for serious inappropriate behavior off school property and during non-school hours if the behavior will interfere with teaching and learning at the school.
  • No student shall be restrained and/or placed in seclusion by school staff unless the student’s behavior poses an imminent risk of injury to him/herself or others. Previously, teachers had been encouraged not to involve themselves physically if students were fighting.
  • Talking back can get a student kicked out of class, but the out-of-school suspension is capped at two days
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