Just how effective are suspensions?

For years, schools used paddling and physical labor as punishment, but today primarily use three types of discipline: After school detention (ASD), in school suspension (ISS) and out of school suspension (OSS). But do suspensions actually work?

Keeping students out of the classroom raises concerns on several levels. One former student interviewed said that a series of suspensions was one of the primary reasons he ultimately dropped out.

According to the ‘Dignity in Schools’ factsheet about school suspensions, students who have received three or more suspensions by the end of their sophomore year are five times more likely to drop out than students who have not been suspended. In the 2009-10 school year, the state of North Carolina reported 131,607 short-term suspensions across the state, which represents a lot of time out of the classroom.

“I don’t think it makes any sense to take kids from their learning because it hurts them academically, and it’s like being on vacation,” said sophomore Jacob Fowler, who has not been suspended.

On the other hand, many teachers and administrators credit firm discipline as one of the keys to Northwood’s recent success. Principal Chris Blice argues that 90-95 percent of students will graduate without ever being suspended.

“I think our approach to suspensions is firm but fair. I’m a firm believer of that if you get people’s attention the first time, they are less likely to do it again,” principal Chris Blice said.

To illustrate that philosophy, Blice points to Chatham County Schools data that states that of the 239 current students who have had a drug violation during their school careers, only 30 (about 13 percent) have more than one. Blice sees that as proof that suspensions are working.

But a lot of students believe OSS is not an effective punishment, and believe ISS is much more effective, because students are forced to work.

“If you want punishment, then put them in ISS, but if you send them home they are just going to enjoy it. They are not going to learn anything. If you’re in ISS you will do work, you will write sentences, and it does suck,” junior Shannon Burke said.

Some students liken OSS to a vacation from school.

“It really wasn’t that bad. I caught up on a lot of schoolwork and went out to eat with my friends who were also suspended. Yeah, it was alright,” said one senior about his suspension.

But other students say suspensions not only hurt their reputation and how people perceive them, but their grades as well.

“I went back and forth to the school getting work and talking to the administrators to try to let me come back. I’m grounded for eternity and it made me never want to do it again,” one sophomore said. “I’m failing all my classes now. My teachers didn’t give me all the work and I wasn’t allowed to take tests or be on campus, so when I came back I had a pile of zeros.”

Although when students return to school and may have many missing assignments bringing their grades down, there are opportunities to make up the work.

And while some students clearly learn from their mistakes, others do not.

“I don’t know if I regret it or not,” said one senior. “I do in a college perspective because they don’t like suspensions.”

Some students who do not get suspended feel that consequences at home are a reason they follow the rules.

“If I got suspended, my parents would be so upset and disappointed with me, so not being suspended [or in trouble] is a better incentive for me to make them proud,” sophomore Ellie Frost said.

Many students look at the suspension system and don’t know the reasons behind it. The years before Blice came to Northwood the discipline systems were inconsistent and students were committing offences more often.

“There was a real sense of nothing was happening. I think that the proof that it has been working is five years ago Northwood was averaging 20 plus fights a year. Last year we had one, and the year before we had one,” Blice said.

–By Ally DeJong