New school discipline guidelines: no corporal punishment and more parent conferences

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — During its Sept. 23 meeting, the Oak Ridge Board of Education unanimously approved a policy regarding discipline for students — with a gentler approach from previous years’ policies.

As it is still on first reading, it will have to pass the School Board again in order to go into effect.

The new policy eliminates the previous policy’s three mentions of corporal punishment even as it adds parent conferences as a response to various offenses including bullying and harassment. It also adds “tiered behavior plans” and referrals to alternate education programs as possible responses for other offenses such as fighting and minor vandalism.

It also adds “referral to outside community agency” as a possible response for offenses such as death threats or bomb threats, drug possession or use, or injuries to teachers … among other offenses.

The policy retains from the previous policy other methods of discipline such as detention, suspension or expulsion of students — depending on the severity of the offense.

While the superintendent and Oak Ridge Schools staff come up with each school’s specific code of conduct, this broader system-wide policy provides general guidelines regarding a variety of offenses and the appropriate discipline for each of them.

Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers indicated at the meeting that the policy changes stem from a state law requiring the Tennessee Department of Education to develop new disciplinary guidelines. “And we have aligned this policy to reflect that,” the school chief said.

The policy lays out its vision for discipline in its introduction. It states that disciplinary measures should be implemented in a manner that “balances accountability with an understanding of traumatic behavior, teaches school and classroom rules while reinforcing that violent or abusive behavior is not allowed at school, minimizes disruptions to education with an emphasis on positive behavioral supports and behavioral intervention plans, creates consistent rules and consequences (and) models respectful non-violent relationships.”

The policy states Oak Ridge Schools will use the following “trauma-informed disciplinary practices” including “restorative practices, multi-tiered systems of supports, behavior intervention plans, grade level lunch bunch meetings and parent/student conferences regarding expectations for positive behavior.”

The policy’s gentler focus is especially clear with regard to preschool and elementary school students.

It states Kindergarten and pre-Kindergarten codes of conduct should use “alternative disciplinary practices such as positive behavior intervention strategies. Exclusionary discipline shall only be used as a last resort.”

The policy can be found in full on the school system’s website at

School Board vice Chairwoman Laura McLean made the motion to pass the policy on first reading, and member Erin Webb seconded. The policy passed without questions or comments.