Guest Column: In School Suspension should be retained

In School Suspension (ISS as it is commonly known) was one of the programs terminated for the next school year during the board meeting of Feb. 24. Its demise concerns me personally because I run Kennedy Middle School’s ISS room. There are sound reasons for keeping it.

Eliminating it does not save much, if any, money. In fact, it could cost the district. State aid is based on daily attendance. The better a school’s attendance is, the more money flows in. The current rate is approximately $26 per day. If students are suspended in school, the district still receives the allotment. If students are suspended out of school, funds are lost. Anything that can be done to promote better attendance will benefit the district financially. Without ISS, more out-of-school suspensions will probably result, causing still greater loss of funding. Another possibility is that students who should be removed from the classroom won’t be. The result of that will be a negative effect on staff morale and additional strain on students who are keeping themselves under control.

An in-school suspension program does not require any special equipment or facilities. In my building there is no separate budget for materials. The ISS rooms do need to be staffed by teachers able to contend with the behaviors students present. For the most part, teachers doing the work chose to do so.

Eliminating ISS will not eliminate the very real need to isolate some students from the general school population from time to time. The need to deal with oppositional and defiant students in some way will remain. How will the need be met?

Suspension in school is not appropriate for all students, or as a consequence for all rule infractions. Sometimes parents request ISS in lieu of out-of-school suspension because not all parents are able to provide the close supervision necessary when their children must remain at home. Administration will cooperate with that request, providing that ISS is an appropriate consequence for the infraction. Eliminating ISS reduces the number and kind of behavioral interventions available.

Many of the students I see exhibit an extreme unwillingness to accept direction from adults. Family turmoil, substance abuse and a constellation of other problems are factors in the lives of many students. If the students are suspended in school, they are available to counselors, the nurse, our social worker and various representatives from outside agencies who serve our school. The children also have the opportunity to remain engaged with their studies, (should they become compliant enough to do so over the course of their day in ISS). While in the room, they have the opportunity to discuss the circumstances that got them placed in ISS and develop better coping strategies.

Does ISS cure students of bad behavior? In and of itself, the answer is no. ISS is an important part of the district’s behavioral intervention package. It provides classroom teachers a short respite from children who disrupt classes. The message that something will happen if students disrupt is not lost on those children who teeter on the edge of unacceptable behavior.

It is clear that our district faces a financial crisis. I have faith that the administration and board will work together to steer the district to less troubled waters. It is my hope that in the process, ISS will continue to be available as an option for handling difficult students.

Gaen McClendon is an ISS teacher at Kennedy Middle School.

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