I was introduced to the in-school suspension process when I became an administrator in a school for students with severe behavior problems. It was used as I expected to keep students in school when they would have otherwise been suspended. The one thing that set this (ISS) In-School Suspension program apart from other programs was the amount of time that a student spent in ISS, and the level of student accountability. Students who were assigned ISS were not put in there for hours but, for days. Students also had to produce a voluminous amount of work in order to be released. If the student’s behavior was out of line while they were in in-school suspension, they were assigned more time.
This idea of in-school suspension has been around since the 1970’s when researchers began propagating the notion that out-of-school suspensions (OSS) were ineffective, and perhaps even detrimental to students. It has been my experience that out of school suspension is only ineffective when the student is left unsupervised in the home while they are suspended, and because the parents don’t hold the child accountable for his poor behavior in school. Students would come back from out of school suspension, without any consequence imposed in the home, and had no fear of being suspended again. The school then has been handed the responsibility of holding students accountable, while the student remained in school for behaviors that they would otherwise be suspended for.
The Key Components to an Effective In-School Suspension Program:
Respect must be Present – If mutual respect is not established between the instructor and the students assigned the program will be a dismal failure. An in-school suspension program should have one, and I stress one supervising teacher. Students who have chronic behavioral problems have difficulty adjusting to different personalities and really need more of a mentor to help and encourage them to change their behavior. The supervising teacher should be a certified professional and have a background in Special Education, or counseling.
Students must be responsible and held accountable – The teachers and administration must develop a user friendly mechanism that provides assignments for the students assigned on a daily basis. All work must be completed before a student is allowed to leave. The work should be checked for completeness by the in-school suspension teacher and routed back to the teacher who provided the assignment. If students complete their assignments before the end of the day, supplemental packets should be made available. These assignments should not be busy work, but rather they should be used to address some of the specific behaviors that put the student in in-school suspension in the first place.
Non-compliance must be addressed – If a student continues to exhibit inappropriate behavior while in in-school suspension it must be addressed. Too often inappropriate behaviors are ignored; this sends the wrong message to other students in the room, and in its own way communicates by default agreement. Students who exhibit inappropriate behavior, should be given instruction regarding the rules and regulations of the room, given a firm warning, and then if the inappropriate behavior continues support needs to be summoned to the room. Counselors are not disciplinarians, but they should be called first to help manage the student’s behavior. A clear line needs to be drawn between the counselor and the administrator. Counselors deal with behavior from a therapeutic standpoint and provide compassion and understanding; administrators enforce the rules and regulations of the school. Both are needed for the discipline process to be effective.
Room location, size, and student teacher ratio – The In-School Suspension room should be far enough away from the general population of the school, but close enough to allow for administrative visits. The room should not be so far away that the disciplinarian by-passes the room during building tours. The size of the room should be large enough to keep plenty of space between each student to avoid the possibility of any student confrontations. Students in an in-school suspension program can be chronic behavior problems. Large numbers of these students in one room can become unmanageable. The student teacher ratio should be no more than 8-1.
Amount of time assigned – It has been my experience that periods, or hours do nothing to change a student’s behavior. Students should be assigned 2 days of In-School Suspension for every day that the student would otherwise be suspended for. Too often ISS is used as a holding area and can become a place where students want to go. Students should not be allowed to assign themselves ISS because of problems with a particular teacher, or because they refuse to do work. The disciplinarian of the school has the responsibility of assigning the day and time a student should report to ISS. Administration and only administration should assign students to the ISS room.