Putting Education Reform To The Test

In-School Suspension: a Better Alternative or Waste of Time?

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Students at Power U Center in Miami advocate for keeping students in class and out of in-school suspension.

There is a place on school campuses for students who break the rules.

In some Florida schools, it’s called SCSI.

Marcus Pryor, a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High, thinks it stands for School Criminal Scene Investigation.

SCSI actually stands for School Center for Special Instruction. And in Miami, it’s where students go when they get an in-school suspension.

It’s an alternative to out-of-school suspension Florida schools can use for offenses considered minor, like consistent tardiness, wearing baggy clothing or cutting class.

The idea is that students will learn more during an in-school suspension. But being on school campus does not mean students are actually in class or receiving instruction.

Pryor got an in-school suspension for consistent tardiness when he was in middle school. He said the other kids in the classroom were a group of friends who had all cut class.

“They all have their friends in there with them and that’s the time they really want to make fun and criticize,” Pryor said.

Pryor says he does not feel comfortable being in a room with all the “bad kids.”

“Most kids that go to SCSI are the main bad ones,” he said. “The ones that like to pick on and bully and it makes you feel like you need to be more on your toes.”

“We Just Read and Watched Teachers Eat…”

More than 455,000 Florida students were suspended last school year.

“Some of the student actually don’t mind going there because they can sit there and do nothing.”

– Jennifer Smith, Hialeah High School teacher

The majority – more than 243,000 – were in-school-suspensions.

Students are held in a classroom away from other students. It could be for on class period, an entire school day, or multiple school days.

Each school handles in-school suspensions differently.

In Miami-Dade County, certified teachers supervise suspended students and act as tutors if students have questions.

In Orange County, schools hire separate staff at a lower salary than beginning teachers.

In Duval County, schools sometimes re-purpose staff to watch over in-school-suspension students.

And students are supposed to be doing work during in-school-suspension.

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Keisha Campbell, a sixth grader at Norland Middle School, got in-school-suspension for 10 days.

But Keisha Campbell, a sixth grader at Norland Middle School in Miami, says it feels like busy-work.

“We didn’t really do anything,” Campbell said. “We just read a book and just watched the other teachers talk and eat and things.”

She got 10 days of in-school-suspension for pushing a student she says pushed her first.

“It’s like jail,” she said. “We have to have last lunch and last lunch means after all the kids eat you get all the scraps left.”

Campbell said she was lucky to get in-school-suspension over out-of-school-suspension. But she didn’t realize she would miss so much class.

“They mark you absent for 10 days,” she said. “And me, I go to school everyday, so those 10 days messed up everything.”

School officials say being on campus gives students access to teachers if they have questions about classwork. And sometimes students are allowed to go back to class to pick up classwork or take a test.

Earl Green handles discipline and student services at Orange County public schools. He says it’s better to keep suspended students on campus.

“When a child is suspended out of school, many times they are on their own during the day because mom and dad have to go to work,” Green said. “And lots of times they end up roaming the streets and getting into more trouble.”

But Jennifer Smith, a teacher at Hialeah High in Miami, says in-school suspension is not effective at deterring students from breaking school rules.

“Some of the student actually don’t mind going there because they can sit there and do nothing,” she said. “A lot of times those are students who are sitting there doing nothing to begin with.”

Are In-School-Suspensions Applied Evenly? 

Statewide black male students are the only subgroup more likely to get out-of-school suspension than in-school-suspension over White, Hispanic and Asian males combined.

School officials say it mirrors national trends.

And Valtena Brown, a regional superintendent in Miami-Dade County, says they are trying to figure out why.

“Our superintendent has commissioned a task force to actually look at the phenomenon in Dade County.”

But she said out-of-school-suspensions across all groups are down over the past few years — being replaced by in-school-suspensions.


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