Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Educational Leadership

Committee Director

Steve Myran

Committee Member

William Owings

Committee Member

Jori Beck


In 2019, the Virginia Board of Education approved the Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension as a framework for school divisions to revise student behavior practices and policies. The model guidance reflects substantive changes in procedure, language, and data collection as compared to prior sanctions based codes of conduct. The goal of the model guidance is to implement a balanced approach to student behavior through proactive, constructive, and equitable practices. Consistent with current research, the guidance indicates a significant emphasis on social-emotional learning, intervention, and restorative practices. The language, coding, and expectations of the state guidance cannot interrupt the suspension cycle alone; rather, school divisions will need to actualize a comprehensive pedagogical shift in practice and culture relative to student behavior.

Educational leaders have struggled with the paradox between the commitment to expand equity for all children and the existing student conduct and discipline paradigm. This qualitative exploratory case study sought to reveal educator perceptions toward student behavior and school discipline in a single urban public school division in Virginia. I conducted a division wide survey and 18 semi-structured interviews of teachers, behavior intervention staff, and school leaders. Data was collected iteratively and analyzed through multiple rounds of coding. Taken together with an examination of research related to human behavior and Virginia's new code of conduct, the findings revealed both congruous and incongruous beliefs relative to student behavior. A primary implication for this study is an increased understanding of existing staff perceptions and responses to student behavior that serves as a baseline for planning how to acculturate school staff to the new Virginia code of conduct paradigm.