Understanding School Environment

What is School Environment?

School environment, also known as school climate, refers to the look and feel of a school. How students feel at school can influence how successful they are. A school’s environment is often affected by its values, rules, safety, and discipline policies.
School environment is important because it sets the tone for student learning. A positive, supportive environment can help students feel safe and make better grades. Elements of school environment include:
• Relationships between students and teachers
• School staff and front office behavior
• School safety and levels of security
• Bullying prevention practices on the school campus
• General look and feel of the school

How Do I Assess a School’s Environment?

The best way to learn about the environment is by visiting the campus. As a parent, you have the right to visit your child’s school, meet with teachers and administrators, and ask questions about the school environment. You can call the school or request an in-person tour to learn more about the school your child attends or may attend in the future.

What to look for:

When determining the quality of a school’s environment, look for the following positive characteristics:
  • Friendly and encouraging office staff (school secretary, office manager, etc.) who display supportive behaviors with students, staff, and parents.
  • Teachers helping and speaking positively with students in the hallways and classrooms.
  • Teachers keeping the students engaged in their lessons and thinking critically.
  • Parents are encouraged to visit the school, participate in different activities, and ask questions.
  • Students are friendly with one another.
    The school has a hopeful and supportive environment, such as posters on the walls encouraging students to “reach for the stars,” etc.
  • Safety measures in place throughout the school, such as automatic locks or gated entrances to the front office during the school day.
  • Safe and clear resources for students with emotional, mental, and physical disabilities, such as unobstructed ramps for wheelchair access.

Guiding Questions:

In addition to looking for the positive indicators mentioned earlier, here are some questions you can ask to learn more about a school’s climate.
  • How does the school provide information to parents about their child’s behavior?
  • How do office staff or teachers communicate positive feedback to the students?
  • If a parent contacts the school, how long does it usually take to get a response?
  • How does the school prevent and respond to bullying?
  • Are there any official rules that require the school to notify parents when bullying happens in their child’s classroom?
  • What rules are in place to keep drugs from being shared on school grounds
  • How does the school support students’ social and emotional growth?
  • What resources and trainings does the school have to help teachers and staff support students’ social and emotional growth?
  • How does the school encourage parents to talk with teachers and school staff if their child is having a problem?
  • How does the school support emotional and physical growth for students with special needs?
  • Does the front office staff, principal, or teachers speak the same language as me?

Student Codes of Conduct

A code of conduct is a document that explains a school’s disciplinary rules. Schools are required to make this document available to the public. If you are unsure about where to find your school’s code of conduct, you may ask the school principal to share it with you. Becoming familiar with this document can help you advocate for your child and ensure that he or she is in the best learning environment.
Every student must follow the rules in the school’s code of conduct. If a student breaks any of the rules, he or she may face consequences, such as suspension or even expulsion.

Things to Look For In a Code of Conduct:

• Rules for removing a student from the classroom
• Why and how a student could be suspended or expelled
• How the school factors self-defense, intent, and disability into disciplinary decisions
• Rules for transferring a student to a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP)
• The school’s process for notifying a parent or guardian if their student violates the code of conduct
• How the school responds to bullying and harassment
Your school’s code of conduct will also explain why a student may be removed from the school setting, which will include reasons for suspensions and expulsions.

Suspensions

A student may be suspended from school based on the reasons provided in the code of conduct. Suspensions may not exceed three school days. A conference must be scheduled between the campus behavior coordinator (CBC), parent, and teacher within three school days from the time a student receives a written or oral notice of removal. This is a great opportunity to restore trust and improve your child’s relationship with their teachers so he or she can continue to be successful in school.
As of June 2017, students in Pre-K through 2nd grade cannot receive out-of-school suspensions.

Expulsions

Students can also be expelled – permanent removal from a school – for a variety of reasons listed in the code of conduct. These reasons are typically for acts that are against the law. If a student’s behavior seriously interferes with a teacher’s ability to communicate or other students’ ability to learn, the student may be immediately placed in an alternative education program. Students convicted of sexual assault may be transferred to another school if requested by the parent of the victim.

Bullying

School districts must have bullying and dating violence prevention policies. These policies should protect students from bullying in any form – written, verbal, or physical. Policies should also protect students who speak up about bullying incidents. Parents of bullying victims can request transfer of their student or of the bully to another classroom or campus if there is a demonstrated negative impact on the student’s learning. It is important to build a strong relationship with your child and his or her school. The more involved you are, the better you can address this type of situation as it arises.
Check out these resources as a helpful tool for parents: pacer.org and imbullyfree.org

Trends in School Discipline

Restorative Justice

A new type of approach to discipline that schools are beginning to implement is restorative justice. This focuses on repairing the relationship instead of simply punishing a student when they behave poorly. In this approach, the victim, offender, and school staff work together to develop a plan to address damage caused by the offender and facilitate healing for everyone involved. There may be times when parents are asked to participate in this process. The main purpose is to restore trust and the relationship.

Conscious Discipline

Through this learning approach, the teacher uses common examples of classroom conflict to teach students basic life-skills and increase emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. This approach is meant to avoid serious conflict before it starts.

Police Officers

Your child’s school may have police officers on campus. These officers work to ensure each student has the ability to learn in a safe environment. Campus officers have the powers, privileges, and immunities of police officers: they can enforce laws, take a child into custody, assist other law enforcement agencies, and may
be authorized to carry a weapon. Charter districts can appoint one police officer per 400 students. Police officers employed by school districts or on campuses as part of an agreement with the local law enforcement agency must follow the school’s policies.
The environment of your child’s school can impact his or her ability to learn and find success. You can help by staying informed of the school’s rules and your child’s experiences.

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