By Alan Torralbo
Fewer Okeeheelee students are receiving referrals and out-of-school suspensions, but students are spending more days in in-school suspension, according to statistics compiled by the school.
In 2013-14, students spent 715 days in out-of-school suspension. The next year, that figure dropped by 103 days – to 612 days. And as of Nov. 30 of this school year, students had been suspended outside of school for only 110 days.
Meanwhile, in-school suspensions were rising, school data shows. They went from 122 days in 2013-14 to 213 in 2014-15, and as of Nov. 30 of this school year, they had reached 109. They’re projected to reach 228 days by the end of the year.
“Although students attending ISS are increasing, they are at school working and not sitting at home doing nothing,” said Francisco Argain, a teacher who works on special assignment as an administrator.
One reason for the shift is that the school began receiving money to pay a staff person to provide and oversee in-school suspension three years ago.
In addition, referrals – reports of student problems that go onto students’ records and can result in disciplinary action such as detentions and suspensions – have dropped significantly. The school compared referrals from the August-November period and found that the number declined from 583 in 2013-14 to just 363 this school year.
Okeeheelee has also seen a decline in the most serious offenses such as possession of drugs and weapons, and that’s an encouraging trend, he said.
School officials work hard to recruit “better and better” teachers, and they feel that today’s teachers are doing a better job of molding student behavior instead of just punishing misbehavior, Argain said.
“Kids are seeing better behavior getting modeled,” he said.
Porshia Shelton, who teaches social studies, said that sixth-grade teachers have noticed an improvement this year. “We have commented that this group seems a lot better behaved,” she said.
However, she said she believes that teachers are also trying to write fewer referrals because “they kind of pounded that into us” last year at staff meetings. As far as consequences for misbehavior, Shelton said she prefers in-school suspension to students being out of school.
“I think it has the potential to work,” she said.
Shelton said she was once part of a research team that found the behavior of elementary students wasn’t affected by how many days they spent in in-school suspension.
To be most effective, ISS needs to include accountability or direct instruction, she said. She feels Okeeheelee’s program needs more structure because some students see it almost as a free day and she doesn’t always get work back from students serving time there.
Le’Chaundra Portee, who oversees in-school suspensions, says that can occur because sometimes students prefer and focus on certain assignments, avoiding others.
There’s still a role for out-of-school suspensions, officials say. Serious offenses such as fighting or drug and weapon possession still result in students being sent home. And school police officer Alex Lopez said that in his experience parents sometimes make discipline more of a priority when the consequences of their child’s misbehavior affect their life at home or their ability to go to work.