School Justice Partnership: National Resource Center

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


School-Justice Partnership FAQs

In this section we will answer the most commonly asked questions regarding the project topics. Please use the question list below to navigate the most common questions asked and supporting answers for those topics.

1. What are zero tolerance policies and their impact?

The zero-tolerance approach to school discipline states that predetermined punishments be applied when students violate school rules, regardless of mitigating circumstances. These punishments often include suspension, expulsion, and arrest. Proponents of these policies argue that severely punishing disruptive students will create a safer, more favorable learning environment by discouraging other students from similar misbehaviors. However, opponents state that the implementation of these zero-tolerance policies in public schools is responsible for the steep increase in suspensions and arrests throughout the 1990s and 2000s. When students are removed from the classroom, they are often held back academically and may end up involved in the juvenile justice system.

2. What are collateral consequences and expungement?

Collateral consequences are the additional civil state penalties, mandated by law, that are part of juvenile adjudication. They are not part of the direct consequences of adjudication, such as incarceration, fines, or probation. They are the additional civil actions by the state that are triggered because of involvement with the justice system, and that can have important short and long-term consequences on the lives of adjudicated youth. These consequences include (but are not limited to) loss or restrictions to earn professional licenses, eviction from public housing, ineligibility for public funds including welfare benefits and student loans, ineligibility for jury duty, and deportation for immigrants. Often, juveniles are unaware of these collateral consequences when they accept plea deals with a district attorney or prosecutor.

Expungement is a legal proceeding that can be used to clear a juvenile’s record. In a successful expungement proceeding, the juvenile’s record is sealed or destroyed, so it is as if any court proceedings never existed. In addition to the psychological relief expungement can provide, there is the amelioration of several collateral consequences of adjudication, such as the restoration of the eligibility for public benefits and the right to bear arms and participate in jury duty.
3. Who are school resource officers?
A School Resource Officer (SRO) is a law enforcement officer who is assigned to either an elementary, middle, or high school. The main goal of the SRO is to promote a safe and secure learning environment by promoting positive relations between youth and law enforcement. According to the National Association of SROs, the position encompasses three major roles which allow the SRO to achieve this goal: law enforcement, education, and counseling. The responsibilities of SROs are similar to regular police officers in that they have the ability to make arrests, respond to calls for service, and document incidents that occur within their jurisdiction. Some SROs are employees as law enforcement, while others are school employees.
4. How does school discipline lead to juvenile justice involvement?
Overly harsh disciplinary policies push many students into the juvenile justice system. School-based referrals to juvenile court (often for offenses that could be resolved in school) can lead to a cycle of continuous involvement with the justice system. In addition, when students are suspended or expelled, they are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities, and can easily fall behind in their coursework and lose connectedness to the school environment, leading to an increased detachment from school and higher likelihood of dropping out. All of these factors increase the likelihood that juveniles would get in contact, and remain involved, in the justice system well into adulthood.
5. What are evidence-based programs and practices?

Evidence-based programs bring together the best available research, professional expertise, and input from youth and families to develop and implement practices that have demonstrated positive outcomes through thorough and continuous evaluation. For a program to be considered “evidence-based,” it must satisfactorily demonstrate that the outcomes can be attributed to the program itself. To this end, the program must be peer-reviewed by experts in the field and validated by a federal agency or respected research organization that can speak for the program’s effectiveness. OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide uses expert study reviewers, instruments, and ratings to process and present the latest information about evidence-based juvenile justice and youth prevention, intervention, and reentry programs. Please click here to view the OJJDP's Model Programs Guide.

6. What are the differences between in-school and out-of-school suspensions?
A suspension is a mandatory leave assigned to a student as a form of punishment that can last anywhere from one day to several weeks, during which time the student is not allowed to attend regular school lessons. During in-school suspensions (ISS), the student is removed from the classroom and required to stay in an ISS center or other designated school room for a certain amount of time, ranging from part of a school day to several days in a row. During out-of-school suspensions (OSS), the student is removed from the school environment entirely for a period of time that can range from one day to several weeks. The main difference between the two is that students under ISS still remain within the school grounds completing some sort of work and under some kind of supervision, while students under OSS are entirely removed from school grounds receiving no instruction and often no adult supervision. ISS and OSS are often considered punitive forms of discipline, and can also lead students to feel disconnected from their school environment.
7. What does it mean to be expelled from school?

An expulsion refers to the removal of a student from a school system for an extended period of time due to the student’s persistent violation of the institution's rules, or for a single offense of extraordinary severity in some cases. Expulsion norms and procedures vary from state to state and among districts, and the approval of a relevant local school board may be required before a student can be expelled, as opposed to just suspended. Students who have been expelled typically are forced to attend class at some other location, such as alternative schools, boarding schools, private schools, and/or online courses. However, in some states, other public school districts are not required to enroll students serving a term of expulsion, technically causing a permanent expulsion from the district and the potential end to the student’s educational career. Thus, a student who is expelled may be at higher risk for not completing high school and going on to college.

8. What is truancy?

Truancy is any unexcused absence from school. Each school district applies attendance rules that determine: (1) the age at which a child is required to begin attending school, (2) the age at which a child may legally drop out of school, and (3) the number of unexcused absences which make a student legally truant. Truancy is a status offense, meaning that it is considered a crime due to the age of the offender. In many states, youth missing more than 10 days of school are required to repeat the entire school year. In addition, truancy cases are handled differently across states, as they could be addressed by: (1) referring youth to juvenile court, placing them at risk of delinquent adjudication, (2) utilizing the dependency system or other informal processing that provides the opportunity for family services, or (3) punishing the parent through fines and/or jail time.

9. What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written document that is developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education. As required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a multidisciplinary team must determine that he or she (1) is a child with a disability and (2) requires special education and related services to benefit from the general education program. The IEP is a document (but not a contract) that is designed to meet each child’s unique educational need, and must include the following pieces of information: (1) present levels of educational performance, (2) goals, and (3) identification of special education and related services. Many IEPs also provide behavior management plans and in many states, students with IEPs may not be eligible for harsh disciplinary actions such as expulsion – especially if the behavior is considered to be a symptom of their disability.

10. How does trauma impact a student’s behavior in the classroom?
For many children who have experienced traumatic events, the school environment can feel like a dangerous place. Children who experience trauma can feel the the world is a dangerous place, which can affect their ability to focus and control their behavior in the classroom. Some children develop behavioral coping mechanisms in an attempt to gain control and feel safe. Unfortunately, such behaviors can often be seen as disruptive or confusing by educators, leading to school disciplinary action that may reinforce students’ expectations of hostility and danger. Behavioral responses to trauma, such as acting out or withdrawing, can lead to the loss of learning time and a difficulty to establish healthy relationships with teachers and peers.
11. What is disproportionate minority contact?

Youth of color are more likely to be the recipients of school discipline, including school-based referrals to court, and are often overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC), also known as “Racial and Ethnic Fairness” (REF), refers to the unequally high rates of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002 broadened the scope of the DMC initiative from "disproportionate minority confinement" to "disproportionate minority contact," requiring states to examine racial and ethnic representation at nine decision points within the juvenile justice system and implement improvement efforts to reduce identified disproportionality.

12. What is balanced and restorative justice?
Restorative Justice is a preventative approach of creating a safe and supportive community. In schools, restorative practices encourage students to resolve conflicts on their own through peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions, and talk issues out in a safe environment. As a reparative response from the justice system, balanced and restorative justice (BARJ) seeks to repair the harm done to all parties affected by crime, including victims, offenders, and the community-at-large. The BARJ approach requires that justice professionals focus on (1) enabling offender youth to make reparations to the victims and the community, (2) Increasing offender competency (e.g., through vocational and interpersonal skill development), and (3) protecting the community through actions in which offenders, victims, and the community-at-large are active participants.
13. What is a diversion program?
Diversion programs are created with the purpose of redirecting or channeling youth away from the juvenile justice system, as juvenile courts may not be the most effective or efficient way to deal with minor offenses. Juvenile courts may stigmatize youth for having committed relatively minor acts that are best handled in informal settings within the community through a diversion program. Diversion program requirements often include (1) education directed at preventing reoffending, (2) restitution to victims of the offense, (3) completion of a required number of community service hours, and (4) avoidance of specific people/situations, for a specified period of time, that may lead to reoffending. Various diversion programs around the nation have been demonstrated as effective tools to redirect youth out of the juvenile justice system and keep them on track to become successful adults. Many of these programs provide training, consultations, and support for youth, families, schools, courts, and communities in multiple capacities.
14. How can judicial leadership in a community reduce school referrals to juvenile justice?

Judicial leadership is essential in reducing school referrals to juvenile court, as juvenile and family courts hold a unique position among the many stakeholders that comprise an involved community. Judges have the expertise, credibility, and resources to reach out to all stakeholders, unify their efforts, and oversee the development and implementation of strategies aimed at preventing youth from reaching the court due to petty behavioral issues. Effort coordination among all stakeholders (including courts, schools, and community members) is crucial for the successful implementation of juvenile justice action plans, and judges are uniquely positioned to direct such coordination.

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 National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ)

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