The evolution of school discipline – Full-credit policy marks latest modification to changing rules behind suspensions, expulsions

Julia Jacobs, co-editor in chief

In the Dean’s Office, South’s own simulated judicial system, the sentence of an out-of-school suspension no longer comes with an academic blow. Although it has not yet been officially approved by the Board of Education, a new disciplinary policy was implemented in November that allows students who are suspended from school to make up homework, class-work and exams for full credit, Principal Dr. Brian Wegley said.

Before this year, suspended students’ grade reports would fill with zeros for every day that they were resigned to their homes. Wegley said that one flaw of the no-credit policy was that the magnitude of damage done to a student academically varied depending on what time of the semester they were suspended.

According to the Illinois Association of School Boards, there is no state determination regarding whether a suspended student should be allowed to make up work for full credit. Most local school boards in the area have the full-credit rule written into their Board policy, including Chicago Public Schools and neighboring New Trier District 203 (see map of school districts on page 9).

During November 2012, before the full-credit policy was implemented at South, senior Elliott Elm* was suspended for five days out of school after he was caught using marijuana at an off-campus band competition. After negotiating with teachers to make up missed work, two academic teachers agreed to allow it, while two did not. In math and English, Elm’s grades dropped dramatically, which derailed his efforts to improve his grades junior year, he said.

“I feel like, yeah, I definitely made a mistake, and people have to deal with the consequences [for the mistakes] they make, but they shouldn’t allow it to let it affect your academic future,” Elm said. “The way I see it, that’s something that’s social rather than academic, and you’re punishing both sides of it.”

Sean Garrison, associate dean of students, said that, in November, students who were suspended starting August 2013 were retroactively allowed to make up school work and exams for full credit. Although Garrison doesn’t think that students should be penalized academically for their behavior, he is also concerned that excluding the academic punishment from the equation could turn an out-of-school suspension into a vacation.

When sophomore Leonard Warner* was suspended out of school for five days in October for his involvement in a post on a private Facebook group planning drug use after the homecoming dance, he was able to make up his work for full credit. Although Warner was able to keep his grades up during his suspension, the punishment still deters him from future substance use.

“I consider myself staying away from drugs and alcohol as much as I can just because of that incident,” Warner said. “It’s not worth getting in trouble again. If you get in trouble there’s nothing really that you can do about it.”

In an Oracle-conducted survey of 42 teachers, 66 percent said that they agree with the full-credit policy, while 22 percent disagree.

“There are always going to be two schools of thought: are you going to take a pound of flesh from the kid and offer punishment or are you here with the kid holistically, and I think that’s what we try to do,” Garrison said. “We try to work with the guidance counselors and the social workers and the psychologists just to make sure that kids go on the right direction. The goal is to get the kid the diploma and to put them into society as a functional member of society, not to suspend, not to expel.”

In the nine years Garrison has been a dean at South, school administrators have transformed the philosophy behind suspension, he said. While it may be necessary to take a “pound of flesh” from students who violate school policy in some districts, South, equipped with three psychologists, six social workers and 11 guidance counselors, has the resources to sidestep a custodial disciplinary program for a more holistic one, Garrison said.

For example, Garrison was part of a movement to allow thefts to be taken on a case-by-case basis rather than automatically punished with an out-of-school suspension. For students whose infraction is a product of a situation that is being caused by extenuating circumstances, like stealing food from the cafeteria when they can’t afford it, the dean’s office will do their best to lessen the punishment and work with counselors and social workers to improve their situation.

“If I can give a step down of a consequence and work with social workers and counselors to get whatever assistance for that kid, either emotionally or economically, so that doesn’t happen again, that’s all I care about,” Garrison said.

In his time at South, Garrison has also emphasized utilizing in-school suspensions andSaturday detentions over out-of-school suspensions, Wegley said. With next year’s transition to a block schedule, Wegley supports the idea of replacing Saturday detentions with time spent during consecutive days of Student Resource Time, free periods that North currently uses to discipline students.

For a student who is expelled, the options for disciplinary action are also expanding. Expelled students are offered opportunities like taking online courses, working with a homebound tutor or enrolling in Ombudsman, an educational program located in Niles.

“For us, no student truly gets expelled,” Wegley said. “They get excluded from our education for the good of every other student here.”

Sophomore Marshall Rogue*, who was expelled for both semesters of this year for vandalizing school property, spends the first two to three hours of his morning working on online courses within Brigham Young University Independent Study. After his work time, Rogue will play guitar, read or write poetry, trying to spend his day in the most substantive way possible. The hardest part about expulsion is structuring his time when he’s used to having it structured for him, Rogue said.

“You don’t have any social interaction with anybody, you don’t have an actual person teaching you,” Rogue said. “It’s like learning everything off of a Wikipedia page. It’s not the same.”

Despite the addition of academic options to keep expelled students learning, the school must continue to uphold a zero-tolerance policy for certain infractions, like bringing a weapon to school or dealing drugs, Wegley said. Punishment for drug and alcohol possession, which was once a zero-tolerance offense, recently became more flexible.

Starting in 2005, a student caught with drugs or alcohol was given the option of a two-week suspension or a one-week suspension if the student agreed to a period of counseling and drug screening through Peer Services, an opportunity that Elm took advantage of when he was suspended as a junior.

In the Peer Services program, a student is assessed and given a treatment recommendation from a trained drug and alcohol counselor, Garrison said. If the student follows through with the recommendation, their suspension will be reduced from five to ten days; if they don’t, they’ll be recommended to the Board of Education for expulsion.

Elm held his word on eight weeks of drug-screening and months of counseling. After his suspension, Elm said he lost hope— his drug use only got worse and his academic work continued to slip- but seeing a counselor gave him an outlet to talk about what was making it so difficult to readjust.

“One of [Peer Services’] philosophies was that drug use is not inherently bad,” Elm said. “It’s a choice. Everything in life is a choice. So, it’s about making the right choices in what you want to do with your life, choices that will affect people around you.”

Despite recent changes to disciplinary rules like the full-credit policy, Garrison suspects that removal from the school remains an effective punishment because it isolates students from the school culture. In the five days of his suspension, Warner and his friends were kept from going to homecoming activities. During his year-long expulsion, Rogue isn’t allowed to go to jazz band, his only extracurricular activity at South.

“I still have friends, but it’s the same old people every day, I feel like,” Rogue said. “I don’t get to meet new people or embrace the social experience. That’s why you go to high school.”


             *Names have been changed