Grand Haven (Mich.) Tribune: Suspensions should be the last option

First Posted: 1/7/2014

Granted, there are times when getting the student off campus is necessary, but this is rare.

Alternative methods such as in-school suspension, community service, or after-school or Saturday-school classes can better address the root of the problem. Or how about having the student do some work around school, such as cleaning inside and picking up trash, or other work outside on the school grounds?

What happens when a student is sent home for suspension? One could almost call it a reward. He or she sleeps in, gets up and watches television or plays technology games, has friends over, or gets in trouble while hanging out on the street.

As many educators agree that keeping suspended students in school are better than home unsupervised, schools need more than a room and a teacher for in-school suspension to change behavior. Structured programs that address multiple issues can help students get back to class faster and stay there.

“A big plus of an in-school suspension program is that students are still in school, with all the potential for engaging them,” said Anne Wheelock, a research associate with the Progress through the Education Pipeline Project at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. “Suspending students out of school means schools pass up the ‘teachable moment’ when they can connect with students, build relationships and communicate that they belong in school.

“Having said that, in-school suspension programs can be little more than window-dressing designed to pull down out-of-school suspension numbers,” Wheelock continued. “Poorly conceived and inadequately staffed programs, even though they are better than out-of-school suspensions, may be little more than holding tanks — just a pro-forma stop on the route to out-of-school suspension.”

The most effective in-school suspension programs have components to address students’ academic and social needs, educators say, since frequently suspended students often have both academic and behavioral problems.

Schools should use out-of-school suspensions only on rare occasions. Working with the student and attempting to change his or her behavior should be the goal. If obtained, this is best for the student and best for all concerned.

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