School Discipline

What is Discipline?

While many associate the word discipline with punitive measures, school discipline is the system of rules, behavioral strategies and punishments used to manage student behavior and encourage self discipline. The goal is to create a safe and conducive learning environment. Federal and state guidance on discipline focuses on the development of a positive school climate that is aimed at preventing behavioral challenges, teaching skills to support self-discipline for all students and providing targeted support for those students who need more support. Approaches to school discipline range from positive (e.g., school climate improvements, use of restorative practices) to punitive (e.g., suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment).

Students with disabilities or who are suspected of having a disability have additional safeguards to ensure educational access and protect against discrimination in relationship to disciplinary action. Both the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the American Disabilities Act prohibit schools from removing students with disabilities from the school setting because of their disabilities.

Imperial County SELPA supports the use of positive discipline practices to the greatest extent possible. Punitive discipline should be used sparingly instead of a "go to" disciplinary practice. In the subsequent sections, you will find information regarding alternatives to suspension and expulsion in addition to legal and procedural information pertaining to punitive discipline and students with disabilities.

Resources for School Discipline

National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments  (NCSSLE) offers information and technical assistance to States, districts, schools, institutions of higher learning, and communities focused on improving school climate and conditions for learning. 

Fix School Discipline: A Toolkit for Educators  is a comprehensive resource for school superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, students, community leaders, organizations, advocates, and anyone interested in learning how to eliminate harsh discipline practices that push students out of school, and instead enact solutions that work for all students. This Toolkit can help you implement or advocate for supportive, inclusive discipline policies that hold students accountable and improve school climate and safety for all members of the school community.

California Compilation of School Discipline Laws and Regulations presents school discipline-related laws and regulations for U.S. states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, and, where available, links to education agency websites or resources related to school discipline and student conduct.

EDC 48900. A pupil shall not be suspended from school or recommended for expulsion, unless the superintendent of the school district or the principal of the school in which the pupil is enrolled determines that the pupil has committed an act as defined pursuant to any of subdivisions (a) to (r), inclusive: (v) For a pupil subject to discipline under this section, a superintendent of the school district or principal may use his or her discretion to provide alternatives to suspension or expulsion that are age appropriate and designed to address and correct the pupil’s specific misbehavior as specified in Section 48900.5. (w) It is the intent of the Legislature that alternatives to suspension or expulsion be imposed against a pupil who is truant, tardy, or otherwise absent from school activities. California Compilation of School Discipline Laws and Regulations Page 17 EDC 48900.5 (a) Suspension, including supervised suspension as described in Section 48911.1, shall be imposed only when other means of correction fail to bring about proper conduct. A school district may document the other means of correction used and place that documentation in the pupil’s record, which may be accessed pursuant to Section 49069. However, a pupil, including an individual with exceptional needs, as defined in Section 56026, may be suspended, subject to Section 1415 of Title 20 of the United States Code, for any of the reasons enumerated in Section 48900 upon a first offense, if the principal or superintendent of schools determines that the pupil violated subdivision (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) of Section 48900 or that the pupil’s presence causes a danger to persons. (b) Other means of correction include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) A conference between school personnel, the pupil’s parent or guardian, and the pupil. (2) Referrals to the school counselor, psychologist, social worker, child welfare attendance personnel, or other school support service personnel for case management and counseling. (3) Study teams, guidance teams, resource panel teams, or other intervention-related teams that assess the behavior, and develop and implement individualized plans to address the behavior in partnership with the pupil and his or her parents. (4) Referral for a comprehensive psychosocial or psychoeducational assessment, including for purposes of creating an individualized education program, or a plan adopted pursuant to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Sec. 794(a)). (5) Enrollment in a program for teaching prosocial behavior or anger management. (6) Participation in a restorative justice program. (7) A positive behavior support approach with tiered interventions that occur during the schoolday on campus. (8) After-school programs that address specific behavioral issues or expose pupils to positive activities and behaviors, including, but not limited to, those operated in collaboration with local parent and community groups. (9) Any of the alternatives described in Section 48900.6. EDC 48900.6. As part of or instead of disciplinary action prescribed by this article, the principal of a school, the principal’s designee, the superintendent of schools, or the governing board may require a pupil to perform community service on school grounds or, with written permission of the parent or guardian of the pupil, off school grounds, during the pupil’s nonschool hours. For the purposes of this section, “community service” may include, but is not limited to, work performed in the community or on school grounds in the areas of outdoor beautification, community or campus betterment, and teacher, peer, or youth assistance programs. This section does not apply if a pupil has been suspended, pending expulsion, pursuant to Section 48915. However, this section applies if the recommended expulsion is not implemented or is, itself, suspended by stipulation or other administrative action. EDC 48911.1. (a) A pupil suspended from a school for any of the reasons enumerated in Sections 48900 and 48900.2 may be assigned, by the principal or the principal’s designee, to a supervised suspension classroom for the entire period of suspension if the pupil poses no imminent danger or threat to the campus, pupils, or staff, or if an action to expel the pupil has not been initiated.

Students with Disabilities and the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in K-12 Public Schools

According to the California Letter on Restraint and Seclusion, Assembly Bill 2657 added sections 49005–49006.4 to California’s Education Code regarding the use of restraint and seclusion with students receiving both general education and special education. The law states that a pupil “has the right to be free from the use of seclusion and behavioral restraints of any form imposed as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience, or retaliation by staff” (Education Code Section 49005.2). Seclusion or a behavioral restraint may be used “only to control behavior that poses a clear and present danger of serious physical harm to the pupil or others that cannot be immediately prevented by a response that is less restrictive” (Education Code Section 49005.4).

California Law Regarding the Use of Restraint and Seclusion for All Students 

Assembly Bill (AB) 2657, Statutes of 2018, Chapter 998, went into effect on January 1, 2019. The bill added sections 49005–49006.4 to California’s Education Code regarding the use of restraint and seclusion with students receiving both general education and special education. The following information highlights certain passages of the new law, but educators are encouraged to read the entirety of the legislation at

Education Code Section 49005 contains legislative findings and declarations. Subsection (a) says that “While it is appropriate to intervene in an emergency to prevent a student from imminent risk of serious physical self-harm or harm of others, restraint and seclusion are dangerous interventions, with certain known practices posing a great risk to child health and safety.” Subsection (i) confirms “This article is intended to be read to be consistent with, and does not change any requirements, limitations, or protections in, existing law pertaining to students with exceptional needs.”

Education Code Section 49005.1 provides a series of definitions pertinent to the law’s implementation. Subsection (a) says “‘Behavioral restraint’ means ‘mechanical restraint’ or ‘physical restraint,’ as defined in this section, used as an intervention when a pupil presents an immediate danger to self or to others.” Subsection (d)(1) defines mechanical restraint as “the use of a device or equipment to restrict a pupil’s freedom of movement.” Physical restraint is defined as “a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a pupil to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head freely” (Education Code Section 49005.1[f][1]). Prone restraint “means the application of a behavioral restraint on a pupil in a facedown position” (Education Code Section 49005.1[g]). Seclusion is defined as “the involuntary confinement of a pupil alone in a room or area from which the pupil is physically prevented from leaving (Education Code Section 49005.1[i]).

The California Education Code states that a pupil “has the right to be free from the use of seclusion and behavioral restraints of any form imposed as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience, or retaliation by staff” (Education Code Section 49005.2). Seclusion or a behavioral restraint may be used “only to control behavior that poses a clear and present danger of serious physical harm to the pupil or others that cannot be immediately prevented by a response that is less restrictive” (Education Code Section 49005.4).

Several prohibitions regarding the use of restraint and seclusion are listed in Education Code Section 49005.8:

(a) An educational provider shall not do any of the following:

  1. Use seclusion or a behavioral restraint for the purpose of coercion, discipline, convenience, or retaliation.
  2. Use locked seclusion, unless it is in a facility otherwise licensed or permitted by state law to use a locked room.
  3. Use a physical restraint technique that obstructs a pupil’s respiratory airway or impairs the pupil’s breathing or respiratory capacity, including techniques in which a staff member places pressure on a pupil’s back or places his or her body weight against the pupil’s torso or back.
  4. Use a behavioral restraint technique that restricts breathing, including, but not limited to, using a pillow, blanket, carpet, mat, or other item to cover a pupil’s face.
  5. Place a pupil in a facedown position with the pupil’s hands held or restrained behind the pupil’s back.
  6. Use a behavioral restraint for longer than is necessary to contain the behavior that poses a clear and present danger of serious physical harm to the pupil or others.

Educational providers, as defined, must also adhere to new requirements. For example, they “shall keep constant, direct observation of a pupil who is in seclusion, which may be through observation of the pupil through a window, or another barrier, through which the educational provider is able to make direct eye contact with the pupil. The observation required pursuant to this subdivision shall not be through indirect means, including through a security camera or a closed-circuit television” (Education Code Section 49005.8[b]).

This section also mandates that an “educational provider shall afford pupils who are restrained the least restrictive alternative and the maximum freedom of movement, and shall use the least number of restraint points, while ensuring the physical safety of the pupil and others. If prone restraint techniques are used, a staff member shall observe the pupil for any signs of physical distress throughout the use of prone restraint. Whenever possible, the staff member monitoring the pupil shall not be involved in restraining the pupil” (Education Code Section 49005.8[c] and [d]).

The new law requires local educational agencies to collect and report annually to the California Department of Education data on the number of times and the number of students on which mechanical restraints, physical restraints, and seclusion are used. The data must be disaggregated for students who have Section 504 plans, students who have individualized education programs, and students who do not have either plan. The California Department of Education is mandated to post the data on its Internet website (Education Code Section 49006).

The law notes that for “an individual with exceptional needs, if a behavioral restraint or seclusion is used, the procedures for follow-up contained in subdivisions (e), (f), (g) and (h) of Section 56521.1 shall also apply” (Education Code Section 49006.4). These existing sections of code pertain to behavioral emergency reporting. The existing statute is accessible at 

Crisis Prevention Intervention

Imperial County utilizes the Nonviolent Crisis InterventionⓇ program to teach skills for preventing and defusing disruptive or risk behavior. This is not “the restraint class”. The philosophy of CPI is to provide the best care, welfare, safety and security for all. The primary focus of the program is to identify behavior that indicates an escalation toward aggressive and violent behavior and take appropriate measures to avoid, decelerate, and/or de-escalate crisis situations. Participants gain practice in assessing the level of risk associated with crisis behavior and make appropriate decisions related to the management of such risks. Safe and acceptable physical interventions to reduce and manage risk are practiced. Physical interventions are to be used only as a last resort when a student is endangering self or others. Postvention is the process of identifying the impact of and learning from a crisis event. The postvention model helps bring closure and re-establish a positive and productive relationship with the individuals involved.