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CT Voices for Children:
Do Detentions and Suspensions Work?

Education World interviewed Annemarie Hillman, policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, New Haven, CT to learn about best practices regarding student discipline as it relates to school climate.

CT Voices for Children promotes the well-being of children and their families by advocating for strategic public investments and wise public policies. The organization issued a 2010 report titled Teaching Discipline: A Toolkit for Educators on Positive Alternatives to Out-of-School Suspensions.

EW: Do detentions and suspensions work as a deterrent for student misbehavior?

Hillman: Unfortunately, out-of-school suspensions don't work. Kids perceive them as vacations, and they often don't get the support they need in order to change their behavior.

In-school suspensions and detentions, on the other hand, can be effective if done right. Schools experienced success when they get creative and went beyond the “classic” deterrents. For example, one school had kids serve detention during lunch. This was effective because kids really missed out on the social aspect of lunch, and were therefore more likely to avoid detention in the future.

EW: What are some more effective alternatives to detentions and suspensions?

Hillman: We interviewed educators across Connecticut and found there is no right choice. There are a lot of great places to start, such as the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model, which has been shown to improve the climate of the school. We've seen peer mediation and youth mentoring be helpful as well. There is sometimes a fear that these programs cost a lot of money. Schools, however, don't necessarily need new rooms or a team of experts to provide these kinds of supports.

EW: If suspensions or detentions are served in school, how can that time be made productive for students?

Hillman: Schools should provide educational and academic support. If a kid is acting out because he is having reading trouble, get him a reading coach and offer the supports he needs. If you are creating a really positive school environment, and kids and teachers know what the expectations are, then detentions may be taken more seriously.

EW: Is there a single solution to the detention/suspension debate, or is it more of a "do what works for you" answer?

Hillman: There is no one specific answer. Schools should look at their policies, look at their data and provide student support. They should keep a strong focus on improving school climate. If kids feel respected, they will participate. If punishment must be given, kids should at least remain in school for it.

Related resources

Don’t Just Sit There: Use Detention Wisely
Evaluating In-School Suspension Programs


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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