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A corral for unruly kids

October 13, 1998

A corral for unruly kids

"If detention doesn't work, throw them the heck out."

The speaker is Bill Toth, president of the school board in Benton, Pa. Toth's opinion is held by many considering what to do with unruly students, and is one side of a debate that citizens must participate in if they want effective schools.

Toth believes the popular practice of in-school suspension, or ISS, in which misbehaving students are removed from the classroom and taught under the supervision of a vice principal or a teacher, is a waste of time and money. It would be better, Toth told the Bloomsburg Press-Enterprise newspaper, to send the kids home, an action he believes would get parents' attention and force them to take responsibility.

Principals in the Benton area disagree, saying that for many students, out-of-school suspension is a vacation they're happy to get and something that definitely doesn't deter them from future mischief.

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We see some merit in both positions. If ISS consists only of a study hall away from the regular classroom, it may correct the problem temporarily by getting the problem student out of class, but it probably won't have any long-term effect on that student's behavior. And some parents may not take the problem seriously until their child is booted out of school.

We suggest a combination of the two, which some jurisdictions have already implemented. Students who are suspended attend an alternative education facility, with small classes where the major emphasis is learning how to behave in a group. To get parents' attention, we recommend requiring them to defray part of the cost, or if they can't afford that, of providing some volunteer labor to the school.

The one solution that is unacceptable is just booting students out, even if they've reached the age at which they can legally drop out. Students who don't learn their lessons early will probably need government subsidies to do so eventually, through job training programs, subsidized apprenticeships, or even prison. Doing it now will be less painful and cheaper in the long run.

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