How does Pennsylvania law regulate the use of discipline in schools?

Overview of Discipline in Pennsylvania Schools

Pennsylvania law provides a framework for maintaining order and discipline within its schools. This framework is designed to balance the need for a safe and conducive learning environment with the rights of students. The Pennsylvania School Code and various legal precedents set out the parameters for disciplinary actions that can be taken by educators.

Regulatory Framework

The Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949, as amended, serves as the primary legislative document governing school discipline. The Code grants school officials the authority to enforce reasonable rules and regulations, and to impose disciplinary measures as necessary. However, such measures must comply with state law and respect the due process rights of students.

In addition to the School Code, the Pennsylvania Code (Title 22, Education) contains specific regulations that guide disciplinary procedures, including those related to suspension and expulsion. For instance, students cannot be expelled without a formal hearing unless they are given an opportunity to waive this right in writing.

School District Policies

Each school district in Pennsylvania is required to develop and publish its own code of student conduct, which must align with state laws. These local policies detail permissible disciplinary measures and outline procedures for their implementation. They often include a range of consequences for various infractions, from verbal warnings to expulsion.

Protecting Students' Rights

Disciplinary actions in Pennsylvania schools are subject to constitutional limitations. The Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause requires that students facing suspension or expulsion be provided with notice of the charges against them and an opportunity to present their side of the story.

The case of Goss v. Lopez established that students have property interests in their education and are entitled to certain procedural protections before being deprived of that interest. Pennsylvania schools must adhere to these federal mandates.

Historical Context

Throughout the history of education in Pennsylvania, discipline methods have evolved significantly. Corporal punishment, once a common practice, has been largely phased out since the late 20th century. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) as well as restorative justice practices aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions while promoting constructive student behavior.

Special Education Considerations

Students with disabilities are afforded additional protections under both state law and federal legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Disciplinary measures that constitute a change in placement for more than ten consecutive school days require specific procedural safeguards, including a manifestation determination review to ascertain if the behavior was related to the student's disability.


Pennsylvania has established a comprehensive legal framework that regulates school discipline while protecting student rights. It endeavors to provide educators with the tools necessary for maintaining order while ensuring that disciplinary practices are just and appropriate. As educational philosophies and legal interpretations evolve, so too will the approaches to school discipline within the Commonwealth.