Classroom Disruption

What official language does the College have about classroom disruption?

Code language that guides our responses to classroom disruption can be found in the Student Handbook: A Guide to Civil and Honorable Conduct.

The Student Code of Conduct (Section found within the Student Handbook) specifically forbids disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings other college activities, including its public-service functions on or off campus, or other authorized non-college activities when the act occurs on college premises. 

The Classroom Code of Conduct (from the President's Advisory Committee) covers specific principles of civil conduct expected in a college classroom:

  • Do not cut classes, come in late or leave early.
  • Never leave during class unless you absolutely must. Leaving for a short break and then returning is not acceptable.
  • Turn off cell phones, pagers and all other electronic devices.
  • It is rude and unacceptable to talk with classmates while the professor (or another student who has the floor) is talking.
  • Visible and noisy signs of restlessness are rude as well as disruptive to others. (Student Handbook, pp. 58-59)

The material below comes directly from Gary Pavela, ed., "Questions and answers on classroom disruption," Synfax Weekly Report (July 9, 2001): 2024-2025. Phone numbers and names particular to the College of Charleston have been inserted.

How is "disruptive" behavior defined?

We define "classroom disruption" as behavior a reasonable person would view as being likely to substantially or repeatedly interfere with the conduct of a class. Examples include repeated, unauthorized use of cell phones in the classroom; persistent speaking without being recognized; or making physical threats.

Faculty members have broad authority to manage the classroom environment. The college classroom isn't a public forum like a city street or park. Faculty members can define the course agenda, set and limit topics of discussion, give grades that reflect a student's knowledge or reasoning, and maintain order in the classroom. They should freely perform these important functions, as long as they refrain from unlawful discrimination, or seek to punish students solely for expressing unpopular viewpoints pertinent to the course.

Clarity is the key. State your expectations during the first day of class and on the syllabus. Explain the reasons for your classroom environment expectations.

How should I respond to classroom disruption?

With Courtesy, Fairness and Progressive Discipline – If you believe inappropriate behavior is occurring, consider a general word of caution, rather than warning or embarrassing a particular student. If the particular behavior is irritating, but not disruptive, try speaking with the student after class.

In those rare circumstances when it is necessary to speak to a student during class about his or her behavior, correct the student in a courteous manner and indicate that further discussion can occur after class. In less serious cases, give the student the opportunity to learn from the consequences of their misbehavior, and to remain in the class.

How should I respond when a student persists in disrupting a class? Direct the student to leave the classroom for the remainder of the classroom period. The student should be told the reasons for such action, and be given an opportunity to discuss the matter with the faculty member as soon as practicable.

Prompt consultation should also be undertaken with the department chair and the dean of students. Document and respond to "small" incidents sooner rather than later. Sometimes a "behavioral contract" developed by the dean of students and the referring teacher might help define needed boundaries for a student.

When should I think about pursuing a disciplinary charge?

When the disruption is serious and persistent. Contact the dean of students in the Office of Dean of Students (843.953.5522). The College will take appropriate disciplinary action in cases of proven classroom disruption.

You should discuss allegations against identifiable students only with individuals who have some role in the disciplinary process (department chair, dean of students and legal counsel). Refrain from sharing any personally identifiable information with any person (including a colleague) who has no educational interest in the information.

When should I call Public Safety?

You should call the Office of Public Safety (843.953.5611) whenever you believe there is any threat of violence or unlawful behavior. Any threat of violence should be taken seriously. Err on the side of caution and notify the Office of Public Safety as soon as you can. Think about adjourning the entire class.

What if the disruptive student claims the disruptive behavior is the result of a disability?

The fact that a student may have a disability should not inhibit you from notifying appropriate authorities about disruptive behavior. Students – with or without disabilities – need to know they must adhere to reasonable behavioral standards.

Disability claims and accommodation requests should be discussed with the campus disabilities coordinator (Ann Lacy, 843.953.1431). There is an established procedure students should follow if they have a disability and seek a reasonable accommodation.