School Suspensions: Pros, Cons, and Ways to Improve
Suspensions are overused and misused. They are not effective and more often than not, students repeat inappropriate behavior. The question one needs to ask is, "Why are students not learning?" Answering this question with "because they don't act appropriately" is not good enough. The focus of this article is to provide insight to student misbehavior and provide some food for thought in improving the suspension system.
Our Current Suspension System
As you can tell from this short list, there are a several issues, many that were not included. The bottom line is that no matter what the issue, it needs to be dealt with. If you cover it with a rug, eventually it is going to be exposed again. It will continue to rear up until it is faced and the proper assistance has been provided. So the next question is do we want to continue to deal with the same problem over and over again?
Currently the system we use includes in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, alternative education schools, and expulsions.
1. In-school suspensions— provide an in house approach by having students who committed infractions stay in a designated room to work independently on their school work. There is no talking unless the student has a question for the ISS Supervisor.
a. Pros: Isolated, remain in school, and work on assignments (sometimes)
b. Cons: Do not receive the day’s class work, work is completed incorrectly, and/or students use time to sleep
2. Out-of-school suspensions—require the students leave the school and remain home for 1- to 10-day periods at a time.
a. Pros: Removes students from situation
b. Cons: Miss assignments and do not take responsibility for their conduct
3. Alternative Education Schools—students transfer to a different school, usually another school in the district, or an alternative education program. Qualifying students are usually failing or have failed and have numerous out-of-school suspensions.
a. Pros: Remain in school
b. Cons: Do not take responsibility for their actions and encourages association with other students with disciplinary issues
4. Expulsions—used for serious infractions such as drugs and weapons, where criminal charges can be brought against the student or students.
a. Pros: Removes students who may cause harm to another or influence others with drug usage
b. Cons: Some drug infractions are petty in nature, i.e. use of Tylenol, aspirin, and cough drops
Taking a close look at out-of-school suspensions
Let’s think about out-of-school suspensions. What really is the result? Do kids fear them? Do they feel bad because they got it? Well, they may, but overall it is a reward for their not-so-good behavior. Giving students the reward of having x-amount of days off to play and stay out of school is not the answer. We need a program that teaches students how to interact with others, their peers and authority figures, while still being able to voice their opinion. They need to know that they matter and that everything is being done to help them. That's the key. Everyone should feel wanted and an important part of the educational system. If we solve the problem by suspending them, I'm sorry; we are not solving the problem at all. We are only adding to the problem. It’s like a rug, we can sweep all kinds of garbage underneath it but it’s still there—hidden but there. Unless students uncover it and deal with it, it will remain there. Creating bumps in the road until eventually, their teachers and administration don’t have a choice. They have to deal with it or pass the buck to someone else who may be able to deal with the situation and its causes.
Ways to Improve the Suspension System
First of all, we need to keep them in school unless it is serious. For weapons and drugs, the students need to be removed from the school grounds and proper actions need to be taken. We must keep our students safe.
For the other students, we need to provide 1) isolation or removal from the situation so they have time to mall over the problem, 2) guidance in understanding, and then 3) approval from the teacher and the class to go back into the room.
Separation from the Situation
Students need to be separated from the situation so they can take some time and understand what happened and why it happened. They need to know what they did that was wrong, how it was wrong, the effects on others, the consequences they face, and how they can improve their behavior for future and similar situations. They need to know they can voice their opinion but there is a right and a wrong way to do it. They also need to know that they matter. The students need someone who will work with them, to encourage, and to help them to stay on the right track. This may be a teacher, administrator, staff employee, college student, or a student in a higher grade. But a word of caution, just assigning a person to help a student is not sufficient. The troubled student needs to have a repertoire with his or her “buddy”.
Counseling may also be needed. Students may have an anger issue that is set off when a person does some specific behavior. It is important to identify it and work on being proactive versus reactive.
In addition to this guidance, they also need to continue with their work. Just because they have been removed from the classroom, it doesn't give them the OK to avoid their work. It is amazing how many students will look for ways to get out of a class if the class is not holding their attention or if there is some type of conflict within the room. For those who are avoiding their classes because of ISS or skipping, staying after school may be beneficial. It would give them the time to work on missed assignments as well as show them that their behavior is unacceptable. A teacher's detention will not do, but an administrator's detention will. The students need to know that not completing their work is unacceptable and they will get to visit the administrator. Of course, it would be a nice touch if the administrator was to give several lectures throughout.
Guidance in Understanding
In order to provide any help of guidance to students, there must be an understanding of the causes. There are multiple reasons, but here are 10 common causes of misbehavior:
2. masking an inability or difficulty in understanding what is being taught
3. teacher is picking on them (unintentionally or intentionally)
4. made to feel inadequate
5. not being challenged
6. are not appreciated and respected
7. feel the rules within the classroom or the school are unfair
8. being bullied or harassed by other students
9. feel mentally and physically exhausted, i.e. tired, hungry
10. being abused, i.e. prefer isolation
Once the cause or causes have been identified then a panel of people needs to get together, much like a SIT for Special Education. A counselor, teachers, parents, and administration need to be involved to develop a plan of action to meet the students’ individual needs. It is also important to monitor it. Do changes need to be made? What is and is not working? Have grades improved? Has behavior improved? Have there been any additional suspensions? Questions of this nature need to be asked to ensure that all is being done to help each and every student who needs help.
Getting permission to reenter the classroom
I was discussing the idea of suspensions with a Facebook friend of mine, Ruth Crocombe, and had a fabulous discussion. She told me that one of the schools she had taught at required the in-school suspended students to ask permission to come back into the room. I immediately thought, how wonderful. It is requiring the students to be held accountable for their actions and it requires the students to share what they had done and how they are going to improve their behavior within the classroom. Of course, the teacher has to be willing to work with the student. Sometimes, teachers just want to give up. Yet, it is more important than ever to be willing to work with the suspended students. The student needs to know the teachers care. Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated despite our shortcomings. Kids are no different. We all want to feel as if we count for something good and worthwhile.
Currently, our school systems have a variety of ways to handle disciplinary actions. However, they are not working for multiple reasons. Students need to be educated. They are not being taught the right way of things by being kicked out of school and giving up their education. They have to be taught the right and wrongs of behavior. They have to know people care. They need time to be isolated and guidance to help students find the right way to behave. Once all of that is accomplished, students also need to ask permission not get back in the classrooms. This holds them accountable and forces them to face their discrepancies as well as ways they can improve. Above all, the student needs to know that his or her school family care and want only the best for him or her!!
Post note: A site I came across that was absolutely wonderful and even uses research to validate that suspensions are more con than pro is http://idea.gseis.ucla.edu/publications/files/suspension.pdf