Recently, a wave of students were suspended for various offenses, including possession of drugs and weaponry, due to unannounced drug dog searches of the school and parking lot. Each time students are suspended, it becomes a buzzing topic of conversation around DHS.
For each search, the school hires an unaffiliated company to bring dogs on campus. The school is entirely responsible for the punishments they choose to impose; the company they hire is only responsible for bringing the dogs and releasing the information they uncover to the school.
“Students may be suspended from school for violations of and in accordance with student conduct policies… Students may be suspended and assigned Out of School Suspension (OSS), depending upon the nature of the violation,” states the Student Handbook.
Most commonly, OSS is the result of drug-related infringements, however it often only gives license for kids to stay home with the very same drugs. For some, suspension doesn’t seem the most viable option for the nature of that particular violation.
“From experience, suspended students watch a ton of Netflix, smoke weed, and eat food,” said an anonymous suspended senior.
It raises the question of how the school can control the environment of students outside of school, and whether suspension is truly a punishment.
“The way we’re currently doing it, many times it ends up being a vacation for whoever is being suspended because they’re just at home taking it easy,” said science teacher Mr. Jackson.
However, the administration has different hopes.
“The benefit should be elimination of the behavior and often parents will provide additional consequences at home,” said Principal Jon Hoerl.
In theory, it seems a highly effective punishment. In practice, students simply seem to enjoy the free time.
“Personally, being suspended gave me the opportunity to finish my college applications, work more and finish projects I wouldn’t have been able to do during school. I started training to be a server at Seasons, started reading a new book and was able to work on a painting that I’d wanted to finish for weeks… I caught up on sleep and was able to help my mom take care of my little sisters,” said anonymous suspended student Mark Sastertape.
Under the current suspension policy, students grades will not suffer unless they fail to make up work. Teachers have to stay in touch with students to keep them on top of school while at home, and it’s often difficult for teachers.
“It creates more work on the teachers because we’re expected to send any work to the students so they’ll have stuff to work on while they’re there. I don’t think it’s an effective form of punishment. I think it creates such a burden on everyone,” said Jackson.
Luckily, suspension seems effective when looking at longer term results.
“Suspension can be effective for most students. We are hoping there are no repeat behaviors once suspension is used. A very small percentage of students have repeat offenses,” said Hoerl.
Still, the various pitfalls of suspension as a punishment, generally, cause students and teachers alike to question whether there may be more effective alternatives.
“The only part of suspension that really feels like a punishment is writing apology letters to DHS staff for something I’m not sorry for. A more effective punishment would be a scheduled “detention” for a period of time,” said the anonymous suspended senior.
The idea is similar to an in-school-suspension, where students don’t attend regular classes but are supervised as they complete work in school. DHS does not use in-school-suspension as a consequence, so a sort of detention after school and/or at lunch would serve the same purpose, without creating extra work for teachers communicating with students being punished.
Jackson had an entirely different proposal, instead assigning students community service.
“I think community service would be a much better alternative to suspension, for anything: for drug use, for fighting. It should be supervised so that it may be rewarding, but not a fun thing. There are plenty of things out there; they can pick dog poop up off the Colorado Trail. That’s community service, but not something that they would look forward to doing,” he said.
Suspensions make waves within the school, from students’ peers to teachers, and at very least, often incite bilateral contemplations about their efficacy.