How Should We Handle Habitual “Scofflaws” in Our Schools?

Are Traditional Disciplinary Actions Effective in High Schools?

We recently received an email from a School Superintendent who has wisely reached out and asked for solutions and ideas  in dealing with a very common trend in school discipline.  When I read this, I empathized and began to wonder if there are other educators and administrators out there who are dealing with disciplinary challenges in their own school system?  Perhaps some of our own readers have solutions to offer?

If you have any suggestions on how to address this concern effectively, please share you ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this post.  Here are excerpts from the letter (edited):

It is always a challenge working with high school students. As of the end of first semester, we have about 20,000 un-served detentions. Of all those un-served detentions, about 14% of our students overwhelmingly account for the vast majority of un-served detentions.

The other 2500+ students either have no un-served detentions or a very small number that they will serve.   The vast percentage of students follow the rules or take care of their detentions (minor consequences) when assigned. And the vast percentage of students benefit because we do have rules—all societies and communities establish laws and rules—and those rules keep our school a safe and orderly environment so teachers can teach and students are able to come to school and learn.

I think of detentions as similar to parking tickets. You park illegally or the meter runs out (break a rule), get a parking ticket (detention assigned), pay your ticket (serve the detention) and move on with your life as a law-abiding citizen.

But we know about scofflaws, the people who think that the parking rules do not apply to them and that the consequences for ignoring the rules do not apply to them. Those are the folks we occasionally see with “boots” on their car wheels because they have parked illegally constantly with no regard for the law and owe fines for hundreds of parking tickets they have refused to pay.

In schools, we do not have “boots.” We do not have incarceration. We can suspend students who will not serve detentions, but that doesn’t really seem to serve our purpose in most cases either. We contact parents, but in some families that seems not to work either. For juniors and seniors, we deny privileges, such as going out for lunch or going to prom, but we have a certain percentage of students who don’t care.

We have deans, other administrators, and teachers working on this problem. But there is no easy answer. We’re trying not to be overly punitive; yet there are students who take advantage of our efforts to work with them. If the habitual scofflaws would make an effort to follow the rules and would serve their detentions (pay their parking tickets) when assigned, there would be no problem with un-served detentions. It seems so simple. It seems like the social contract most people abide by in order to live in a safe and productive community.

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