Codes of Conduct

Updated January 18, 2016 |
Codes of Conduct
Discipline in private schools generally begins with a code of conduct.

One of the reasons we parents send out children to private school is because of discipline. We have grown concerned about our children being in large classes where the teachers spend much of their teaching time dealing with discipline issues. That's not the education environment we want for our children. We want them to go to school to learn in a safe, supportive environment. 

As you investigate private schools at any level, review how the schools handle discipline. Because each private school is a stand-alone entity, how it approaches the matter of discipline will vary from school to school. Be ready for that. How a school handles discipline is one of many factors which will influence your choice of schools.

What is a code of conduct?

Discipline in private schools generally begins with a code of conduct. A code of conduct is a document which has been produced by the school administration and approved by the board of trustees or other governing body. The code of conduct is generally read and signed by parents and students at the time of admission to the school. It becomes part of the contract between student, parents and the school which governs your attendance at the school. Since you have already agreed to the school's code of conduct beforehand, when you commit an infraction of the code, you will be disciplined accordingly. 

It will be difficult if not impossible to claim ignorance of the school's discipline code. The reason why is that schools want to run an orderly, safe learning community which abides by a set of rules. As part of their mission of educating the whole child, private schools aim to teach respect for others as well as respect for the rules and regulations which are a part of everyday life. Just as our legal system handles all kinds of offences from running a red light to murder with appropriate due diligence and penalties for infractions, so does a school's code of conduct prescribe the consequences for various infractions. In a school community infractions of the rules such as drinking and substance abuse are generally grounds for expulsion.

Gone are the days when discipline meant a couple of licks with a leather strap or a paddling on your buttocks. Corporal punishment is simply unacceptable in 21st century America. Indeed it is illegal in twenty-six states. Discipline is something which is defined by and meted out according to the contract between you and the school.

Here is an example of how The Hill School handles its code of conduct which it calls an Honor Code.

"Students are strongly encouraged to lead by personally reinforcing the values embodied in The Hill School Honor Code. The Hill School Honor Code was conceived by students to promote an environment of mutual trust and respect. We believe that students should uphold the principles of truth, honor, and integrity in all of their intellectual, athletic, and social pursuits. This belief is based on the notion that every student is a responsible individual with an inherent desire to be an honorable person. This responsibility includes a student’s duty to oneself and others to sustain a system of moral values, even in the face of adversity, surely a sign of true leadership.

The origin of the Honor Code can be traced to the School's motto, "Whatsoever Things Are True." This phrase has been at the heart of of The Hill's philosophy since its founding in 1851. 

At the beginning of each school year, The Honor Council holds a ceremony where all Hill School students and faculty sign the Honor Code. An honor pledge also accompanies each paper or test, at the discretion of each teacher. The pledge simply states, On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received unpermitted aid during this test, paper, assignment, or examination."

Another example of how the code of conduct is handled is Horace Mann Schools' Family Handbook. This document is worth reading in detail. 

While the document is specific in pertaining to Horace Mann School, it does give parents new to private schools an in-depth look at the school's expectations as well as what parents and students should expect.

The important concept to understand here is that as a student in a private school you are governed by contract law, not constitutional law. In other words, you do not have the same rights as a public school student. You have whatever rights are spelled out in the contract. If you violate the terms of your contract, you will be dealt with accordingly. Furthermore the investigation, adjudication and consequences will be dealt with expeditiously. As a general rule the school's decision is final.

Zero tolerance

Many schools have zero tolerance policies when it comes to capital offences involving substance abuse, cheating, stealing and sex. You need make certain that your child takes his school's code of conduct seriously and abides by it or faces the consequences. These consequences could be as serious and final as expulsion from the school. Zero tolerances has its champions as well as its detractors as this brief video shows.

Teaching our children to be accountable is not something we do in one or two lessons or discussions. Ultimately we parents are responsible for teaching our children to follow the rules and expect consequences when they do not. Children will make mistakes. Mistakes are a valuable part of any maturation process provided, of course, that your children learn from their mistakes. 

There is absolutely no point in being a helicopter or velcro parent when it comes to accountability. If we take that approach to parenting, our children will lack the confidence and knowledge to make sound decisions. Then they will expect their parents to fix things. The helicopter parent will quickly discover that private schools generally will not condone such behavior. The school's remedy is simple and effective: your child will not be asked to return to the school.

Private schools use codes of conduct to instill good habits and positive attitudes in their students. Codes of conduct are merely part of the framework which any good private school establishes to ensure a smooth functioning school community. Codes of conduct, academics, athletics and extracurricular activities are so integrated and interlaced in most private schools that you can barely tell where one ends and the next begins. That is one of the best features of a private school education.

Questions?  You may contact me on Twitter. @privateschl


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