Coronavirus (COVID-19): Rhode Island Student Discipline During Online Education

In order to ensure students are advised and aware of expected behavior guidelines, schools must implement a Student Code of Conduct, detailing the expectations that schools have determined are necessary to maintain a successful school environment, operation, and culture.  These expectations remain even when the traditional school structure has dramatically shifted to distance learning.  Despite the drastic changes this new distance learning structure has imposed on the traditional school environment, a school’s need to maintain a positive learning environment remain. Furthermore, schools must continue to be mindful of and comply with the applicable federal and state laws regarding discipline.


  • Review and consider implications of federal and state laws governing discipline of students with disabilities
  • Stay up-to-date with resources made available by the RIDE IDEA Team to support distance learning for students with disabilities
  • Continue to abide by the School Safe Act, focusing in particular on issues related to cyber bullying
  • Be aware of possible infractions which may arise in a remote setting, including:
    • Disruptive classroom behavior during “live” remote instruction
    • Faking attendance
    • Plagiarism
      • Cheating: including asking other students for answers, looking up answers on an electronic devise, or having someone else complete a task


  • Create a revised Code of Conduct or an addendum to the current Code of Conduct to address potential challenges caused by a virtual or remote learning environment
    • Possible new consequences or disciplinary actions to address student behavior:
      • Limit ability to participate in a chat room or other “fun” online activity
      • Write reflective essay on actions leading to discipline
      • Participate in virtual mediation
    • Hold parent and student conferences to explain the school’s expectations for a virtual or remote learning environment, and discuss behavior or other actions are acceptable or unacceptable
    • Create a reward system to celebrate and recognize student accomplishments; highlight achievements and allow or promise rewards to students to encourage positive behaviors
    • Plan to address more egregious violations of the Code of Student Conduct with formal discipline hearings once school is back in session
    • Avoid suspensions from remote learning, as schools are generally responsible for providing alternative instruction to suspended students
    • Maintain processes for legal notifications of disciplinary actions; consider implementing a policy which provides for flexibility in making disciplinary decisions, or postponing the same until the school reopens

For more information

If you have questions about compliance with education laws in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, please contact Matthew R. Plain, Rita E. Nerney, or Greg Vanden-Eykel,  at 401.273.7171. For New York schools, please reach out to our New York office at 212.792.6246 or to Paul O’NeillJaime Fernand, or Lisa Holtzmuller.

Barton Gilman provides the full scope of legal services to education clients – including, private schools, traditional and non-traditional public schools, charter schools, charter management organizations, education advocacy organizations and other education-related organizations – throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. For more information, please click here.