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Handling Classroom Disruption

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This page offers guidelines and links to policy to help instructors handle disruptions to instructional activities in the classroom.

Campus disruption policy

Interrupting instructional activities (for example, with protest speeches before class begins) is a violation of the Campus Disruption Policy. Classrooms and other academic spaces (e.g., labs) are not designated as public forums, but are limited to reserved academic use. This applies not only during class meeting times but also before or after classes. Instructors often use the time before or after class to talk with students, hand out materials, and prepare the classroom. The Fundamental Standard also applies.

Handling classroom disruptions

Unlike attending an event, which is usually voluntary, students may feel compelled to remain in class during a disruption. For this reason and in alignment with campus policies, bringing the disruption to a conclusion quickly is often a primary goal, along with minimizing impact to students, instructors, and the campus community. Below is some guidance and input from fellow Stanford instructors that may be helpful. Stanford Teaching Commons also received input on this guidance from several deans’ offices.

If you become aware of a planned disruption before a class session or academic event, please reach out to your dean’s office, or program office for classes in VPUE (e.g., PWR, SIS, BOSP) or otherwise not within a school, for support.

Please note: Any time there is a threat to safety, instructors should call the campus Department of Public Safety (DPS) for assistance: For non-urgent assistance, call 650-329-2413. In any emergency, call 9-1-1 (9-9-1-1 from a main campus phone).

Establish norms and commitments

  • Setting class norms and making shared commitments regarding class interactions is important whether disruptions are anticipated or not. 
  • This guide to norms and commitments provides additional suggestions for engaging with students on these topics.

Have a plan for how you will approach disruptions

 For example:

  • Connect with colleagues in your school, department, or program to discuss your shared approaches and examples. It can be helpful to talk about scenarios in advance and draw insight from colleagues’ experiences.
  • Prepare a slide or paper handout that you could display or distribute quickly in case of a disruption. You may want to include the following:
    • a quote from and URL for the Campus Disruption Policy and the Fundamental Standard
    • a message of support to students, such as regretting the disruption to their learning
    • instructions to students to leave class and return, either at the same location or on Zoom, in a set amount of time, such as 10 or 15 minutes 
    • information about forthcoming communications if the class is not going to reconvene, such as a plan to post to Canvas or email information about how the class activities will be addressed
  • Save in your mobile phone or create a quick reference to any phone numbers you might need while teaching. These could include deans’ offices (note that they may not be staffed at all hours or able to respond immediately), the Department of Public Safety, or others.
  • Review these resources for campus events, safety, and well-being and consider how you would likely identify or make a record of individuals disrupting a class (more information is included below about recording or taking photographs during a disruption). 

Be prepared with what you would say in the event of a disruption

It is important during a disruption to speak clearly, calmly, and directly, and to refrain from touching or physical interaction. For example, you could:

  • State your role as instructor and inform the individual(s) that disruption of a university function, including teaching, is not allowable. Other campus spaces, such as White Plaza, are available for all community members to engage in free speech and to express their views.
  • If the disruption includes loud speech or noise, having a slide or handout prepared, as discussed above, can be especially helpful.
  • If the individual interrupting the instructional activity is a student enrolled in the course, encourage them to take a seat so that instruction can begin or resume without further disruption.
  • If the individual interrupting the instructional activity is not a student enrolled in the course, ask them to leave the space. 

Think about what you would do and say if the disruption continues 

For example:

  • You may inform the person or people causing the disruption that they may be subject to discipline by the Office for Community Standards (OCS). If an individual disrupting your class is not a student, you may want to contact the Department of Public Safety for assistance.
  • As mentioned above, instructors may choose to pause class, change format, or cancel class as needed; as a disruption continues beyond a few moments, you may decide to implement one of these options and communicate the specific decision to students. Letting students know that they are free to leave the space is especially important in the event of an ongoing disruption. 
  • If temporarily moving the class to Zoom, be sure to review the security settings in Zoom to avoid unwanted attendees.
  • If possible, make a record of identifying information about the disruptive individual(s). This can include photographing or recording the individual(s) (as described below), or noting a description of the individual(s) for possible later identification, as needed. 

Seek assistance and follow up as needed

If the disruption does not end and there is not an immediate threat to public safety, you may call your school dean’s office, or program office for classes not affiliated with a school, for further guidance. Keep in mind, though, that the office may not be staffed at all hours and may not be able to respond immediately. The suggestions above include actions instructors can take when additional input is not available, such as pausing class, reconvening in another format, canceling if needed, and communicating with students afterward.

Following a classroom disruption, an instructor may choose to file a Fundamental Standard concern with the Office of Community Standards. Deans and program directors would typically like to hear from you after any classroom disruptions as well.

A note about recording or photographing during a disruption

In the context of a classroom disruption, instructors may openly photograph or record individuals who disrupt the classroom for later identification and, at instructor discretion, filing of a Fundamental Standard concern with the Office of Community Standards. In that case, it is recommended that the instructor notify the individual(s) that they are recording the disruption. Recording is at the discretion of the instructor and should not be undertaken if there are concerns that it may escalate matters or create a safety risk. 

Note also that existing guidance addresses general Recording Class Meetings. As noted in the guidance, you do not need to obtain consent from students if the streaming and viewing of the recorded sessions are limited to in-class use, such as within the Canvas course site. However, you are encouraged to provide advance notice and be transparent with students about whether the course will be recorded. As noted in the Recording Lectures Policy Statement, students may not audio- or video-record lectures absent permission from the Office of Accessible Education or the instructor in question.

If you have questions or would like to discuss additional guidance, please reach out to your dean’s or program’s office.