ISS Isn’t Working

Many inner-city high schools are getting the In-school suspension (ISS) wrong. I just read a report that an inner-city high school of only about 21000 students had about 12,000 student incidences; this past year referred to the school office that involved student misbehavior. At first glance, one might wonder if that 12,000 number is correct. Twelve-thousand seems like a like, right? Maybe too much… ?

Because I know how much intervention inner-city teachers do in their classrooms with students, my first thoughts are that without these amazing inner-city teachers the number could theoretically be 20,000 incidences of student misbehaviors in any single school year in many schools. Moreover, to think that this particular school mentioned above with 12,000 student incidences does not even come from our nation’s biggest and toughest inner-cities. Nor is the school that large itself with only 2100 students.

It makes one wonder what is going on in our inner-city communities. Also, what is happening with our schools’ main deterrent to poor behaviors, their In-School Suspension (ISS) rooms? Why aren’t these ISS rooms changing the poor behavior choices to better behavior choices?

Well, the first problem I think that many of us are already aware of is that there are just too many problems for too few staff manning those ISS rooms. It is problematic that schools who are already understaffed and overwhelmed, don’t have many options on the front end of ISS. In that space that lands between the classroom teachers’ consequences for poor behavior choices, and a quick talking to by a busy administrator, the student is then sent right to ISS with no other intervention.

Nor do most schools have many options on the back end of ISS in that space between ISS and the Out of School Suspensions (OSS). Anyone who is an educator, and especially the school administration, knows how the State has come down on public schools for suspending too many kids outside of school. However, without additional options for intervention, what choices do school staff honestly have?

The lack of middle ground options or interventions before and after ISS coupled with being understaffed has flooded inner-city high school ISS rooms all across this country. This dynamic has caused those ISS rooms to be over-crowded and ineffective at changing students’ behaviors for the better. Thus, nothing changes.

Also, maybe even worse, more frequently these days, some teachers have given up on ISS. So when teachers do not think there are any other options, the disruptive student stays in the classroom where he or she disrupts the learning process for the other 25-30 students in that classroom trying to learn. It is not right!

So, what do we do about this disruptive behavior that keeps others from learning? Well, I think we can all agree that we cannot just turn a blind eye and continue to have disruptive kids refusing to learn how to control their behaviors. Nor can we let unruly kids disrupt the education of the other 25-30 kids in their classes.

The majority should not lose out on their education because of a few disruptive ones, who are in the minority. And these disruptive ones really are in the minority, regardless of how some depict our inner-city schools. The majority of kids are great kids who are under control and want to learn. Unfortunately, though, a few are messing it up for many others.

When we say only 10% are disruptive that really is the minority, right? However, in a school of over 2000 students, we are now looking at 200+ students causing problems. Doing the math, I think we all can come to the answer that no high school ISS rooms in this country will be able to handle over 200 kids acting up effectively. So, with that new math, now what do we do?

Well, to tell you the truth, there are no easy, quick answers. However, the result that we need to focus on is for us not to have 200 students going in and out of the ISS rooms anymore. An excellent place to start would be to have better on-going professional development for our classroom teachers on how to better handle low-impact behaviors within the classroom. These low-impact behaviors are annoying to teachers, but usually can be dealt with in the classroom. Examples of low-impact behaviors are kids having side conversations during teachers’ instruction. Students being rude to the teachers. Also, students getting upset and refusing to do any work for their teachers; to mention a few.

I’m going to purposely ignore the concept of viability right now on the suggestions that I have. And the reason I am going to ignore viability right now is that when I suggest having a middle ground of something like an Intervention Center to deal with behaviors that don’t involve due-process in between the classroom and the ISS room, many people will say, “It’s not viable.” They will share how there isn’t enough staff. They will say, “There’s no money,” as well as a whole bunch of other reasons on why it cannot be done. But… it needs to be done if we are going to have a real chance at fixing our inner-city high schools’ ISS rooms.

For example, let’s look back at the example of the school mentioned above that has about 2100 students and about 12,000 incidences involving poor student behavior that was recorded. Oh, and a quick side note here, trust me when I tell you that not every misbehavior of the students was recorded. This particular school had about a quarter of the student body placed in the ISS room at least once. That is about 500 kids. About 10% were there four times or more. That is about 200 kids. Also, about 2% went there more than ten times. That is about 40 kids in and out of there all the time.

When looking at the infractions that landed students into ISS in this particular school, the biggest infraction was skipping class. The next most frequent infraction was skipping detention. Following those infractions were disruptive and disorderly conduct, disrespectful behavior and insubordination, as well as an accumulation of referrals.

The first thing that probably jumps out at us is that we are forcing kids who miss class to miss even more classes when we put them into ISS. In that same vein, we also have to wonder about what other non-emergency behaviors could have been dealt with in other ways that would have lessened the traffic in the ISS rooms and put the kids back into the classrooms more often?

Perhaps an intervention center or some other kind of intervention for behaviors that aren’t threatening could work. Behaviors that don’t require due process or further investigations could probably be dealt with in this middle ground intervention area that I’m proposing that lies between the classroom teachers and the ISS rooms.

According to national studies and the State, behaviors that should land kids into the ISS rooms are the ones that require a due process investigation. Examples of these types of behaviors are; physical fights, series harassment issues, series bullying incidents, series destruction of property, and series abusive, hostile language toward adults. As one can see, the examples of misbehaviors from the school above that they have added a tremendous amount of unnecessary traffic to their ISS rooms if they were following the guidelines and have other options so they could follow the guidelines…

Adding all these extra kids to the ISS rooms makes it harder for those rooms to effectively deal with the students who really should be in there. But, once again, if there are no other viable options between the classrooms and the ISS rooms, then we eventually end up with over-run and out of control ISS rooms that aren’t effective in changing student behaviors.

Now, let’s shift gears here a little bit and talk about the other end of the spectrum or the back end of the ISS rooms. Let’s discuss that space that lands in between ISS and OSS for those students that even an ISS that is appropriately running isn’t able to help.

As mentioned above, the State leans on schools, especially inner-city schools for their high numbers of out-of-school suspensions. So, what can schools do with their non-compliant students in ISS who are trying to get the other kids in that ISS room on their disruptive team? Well, sometimes the answer is OSS. However, many times the disruptive students stay right where they are in ISS. So the staff does the best it can to survive another day.

The disruptive strong personality and behaviors do not get better under these unfortunate circumstances. In addition, this extremely non-compliant student causes the ISS rooms to be ineffective in changing any of the other student behaviors as well for the rest of that day since the room is now closer to a circus act than a well-run ISS room.

It is evident that our tougher kids need more intensive support, structure, and counseling. Just hanging out in the ISS room revving up their emotions is not helping anyone. Schools need another intervention between ISS and OSS for these tougher kids. They too, deserve to have a chance to be successful, instead of partaking in another day of tearing up the ISS room again.

It is evident that the back end of ISS needs much more intense intervention. Perhaps the same intervention center that works on the front end of ISS could also have a component that works at the back end of ISS. Perhaps a community program or help from the parents could be in this space at the back end of ISS. Only our imaginations and our will to do it are keeping us from developing an appropriate intervention in this spot between ISS and OSS.

We do not want to send kids home if we do not have to. Sadly, a large number of these kids see OSS as just another vacation day. Thus, nothing happens there to help them learn how to improve their behaviors either. Sadly, OSS is also ineffective many times. We need to do something else that is better than what we are presently doing. We need to make improvements in an area where we have some control, like our ISS rooms.

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