31 percent of suspended students repeat a grade and 10 percent become dropouts.
Statistics such as these are causing some school districts to reevaluate their disciplinary tactics and procedures. Traditionally, suspension was considered to be the ultimate timeout for students who caused fights or were otherwise considered too disruptive to remain on school property. There was probably also an element of “out of sight and out of mind.” A student who was not on campus obviously required no supervision and did not soak up the time of busy administrators and educators.
Over the years, more and more students were suspended. One juvenile defense group in Washington claimed that every seat at Safeco Field could be filled with children who were suspended or expelled during the 2009-2010 school year. An alarming number of these kids were punished for having a cell phone in class, not removing a hat and other seemingly minor violations. In the 2012-2013 school year, 52 percent of suspended/expelled students were in an amorphous “other” category.
In-School Suspension (ISS) is an increasingly attractive alternative, but it may not be a cure-all. Instead of being sent home, students are sent to a separate room on campus where talking, getting up and even looking up are generally prohibited. Some educators feel that ISS undercuts their authority to discipline chronic troublemakers, and, according to many, the idea that the kids are actually doing their schoolwork in an unmonitored environment is probably wishful thinking.
Pretrial Diversion Programs
There are no easy answers to these questions. Punishment alone may not be an effective way to deal with misconduct, which is why pretrial diversion programs are such a popular option in juvenile court, especially concerning first-time and non-violent offenders. The programs combine the carrot and the stick: jump through the hoops and your case is dismissed; step out of line and face the music.
The exact nature of these programs varies by court and county, but they generally involve some combination of:
- Education: Kids who are in school must stay in school, and other kids must work towards a GED. In either case, the judge will expect the children to demonstrate progress as opposed to just showing up.
- Restitution: Sometimes offenders must pay for property damage, sometimes they must serve appropriate community service restitution, and generally they must do both.
- Counselling: Sometimes the entire family is ordered into counselling, and sometimes just the individual offenders must see a therapist.
An even more important component is that there be no further brushes with the law during the program, no matter how minor they are.
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