Alternatives to Suspension

iStock_000008319170SmallResearch tells us that students who miss 10% or more of school days are at a higher risk for disengagement and dropping out before completion of high school (see Early Warning Systems in Education: Resources & Tools). And logic tells us that if students are not in class receiving instruction, they are not as likely to succeed academically.

However, our students are not always absent from class because they chose not to be there. Students who are suspended for one to several days miss instruction, and that can effectively disengage them as they are more prone to fall academically behind.

Student misbehavior should result in negative consequences being issued, but does this always have to mean out-of-school suspension? Mentors can work with school staff and administration to determine other, possibly more appropriate, alternatives to suspension. Through mentors conversations with their mentees about the demonstrated behavior, mentors can first determine the function of behavior (whether the student is trying to gain or escape something), and then establish the corresponding subtype of disengagement. In this way, a more appropriate consequence can be put into place. This can both discourage repetition of the negative behavior, and possibly even teach students a new skill set other than what they know – such as acting out.

In this article, Ten Alternatives to Suspension, published in the Institute on Community Integration’s IMPACT newsletter, Dr. Reese L. Peterson lists example alternatives to suspensions. She states—

“Each of these examples has at least some research demonstrating positive behavioral-change outcomes for students, and is an opportunity to maintain or re-engage students in school rather than pushing them out of school.”

Photo of young African-American woman with hoop earrings and pearl necklaces.The Check & Connect coordinator and/or mentor may want to review these alternatives and suggest select ones to school staff and administration, and help administration implement alternatives when encountering negative behaviors:

  • Problem solving or contracting
  • Restitution
  • Mini courses or modules
  • Parent involvement/supervision
  • Counseling
  • Community service
  • Behavior monitoring
  • Coordinated behavior plans
  • Alternative programming
  • Appropriate in-school suspension

I encourage you to read the full article, including descriptions of each strategy.

A few additional alternatives listed in the PBISWorld webpage, Alternatives to Suspension, include:

  • School service (assisting custodial staff with after school clean-up, lunch clean-up, etc.)
  • Loss of privileges (lunch with peers, recess, social time, etc.)
  • Detention (before or after school)
  • Saturday school (during which time missed assignments can be made up)
  • Referral to community mental health services
  • Time out/cool down time

Additionally, mentors can help teachers intervene by suggesting strategies that teachers can use in the classroom to help re-engage students before problem behaviors arise, as suggested in Check & Connect: Implementing With Fidelity beginning on page 120.

If our students are not in school, it is difficult to get them engaged or re-engaged; and if we are not allowing them to come to school, we are making this task impossible. The goal is to have kids in class to engage with school and learning as well as to help them turn-around their negative behavior.

What Do You Think?

What effective alternatives for suspension have you used? How have you worked with school staff and administrators to keep your students in the classroom? Share your thoughts in the Comments area below and/or on our Facebook post.

See Also

  • This more recent post on Longitudinal Data on Suspended/Expelled Youth sheds light on some negative academic outcomes among youth who have been suspended or expelled from school, in terms of engagement with school, sense of belonging, cumulative GPA, and high school completion.

About the Author: Jana Hallas, M.Ed., is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.

©2016 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

5 thoughts on “Alternatives to Suspension

    • Thank you Lisa. This is great! Terrific ideas for alternatives and also ways to prevent suspensions from the get-go. This rings true: “Many school administrators use exclusionary disciplinary measures not because they wish to remove students from the opportunities to learn, but because they need to do something and they don’t know what else to do (Skiba & Sprague, 2008).”

  1. Pingback: Longitudinal Data on Suspended/Expelled Youth | Attend, Engage, Invest

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