An Innovative Solution to Bad Behavior: Reverse Suspensions

Parents listen up! One middle school in West Virginia just created an alternative to traditional school suspensions for students.

Administrators at Huntington East Middle School introduced a new disciplinary response to bad behavior that seems to be working. You won’t believe what it is. For non-violent, non-verbally abusive behavior, the school handles the poor behavior with an option called a “reverse suspension.” It invites the parents to serve.

Yep. The parents can do time for their child’s misbehavior.

“In a reverse suspension, instead of sending a child home, the student’s parent is invited to come to school and spend the day by his side,” reports journalist Carly Hoilman. Principal Frank Barnett said the approach has made a huge difference in school climate. Reverse suspensions have reduced suspensions by two thirds and poor behavior by more than half.

Why is this true?

  1. Traditional suspensions were seen by some students as a “break from school” which they looked forward to and even planned for, from time to time.
  2. Most students behave very differently when mom or dad is around. As a parent sits in on classes, the student knows a conversation will follow that evening.
  3. Further, it is predictable that parents do not enjoy this interruption in their day. It prevents them from doing what they planned to do. All kinds of clear boundaries and leadership happen at home when parents must suffer for their child’s conduct.

To be clear, Principal Barnett acknowledged the school tries to avoid these “reverse suspensions” as much as possible, but it seems to be (almost) a sure-fire way to correct what needs to be corrected.

What This Type of Discipline Accomplishes

While I agree, any school that chooses this type of discipline should make it a last resort, I also believe that it places the onus on the person responsible for the minor: the parent.  I see a handful of benefits to this kind of school leadership:

1. It clarifies responsibility.
There is nothing more purifying than reminding a parent that they are ultimately responsible for their child. Too many parents give birth to children and later avoid the responsibility of leading them.

2. It updates a parent on reality.
Moms or dads never get closer to reality than being “on location” with their child to experience their day. It allows a parent to be “nose in” and “hands on,” and to not assume their kid’s report is objective and thorough.

3. It prevents the “dry cleaner” parenting style.
A “dry cleaner” parent drops their child off to some “expert” (a school, a youth group, a counselor, etc.) dumping the job of fixing their kid on someone else…just like dropping off our clothes at a dry cleaner.

Developing great kids is work. Perhaps more work that any of us realized. Especially today. I compare it to the difference between a wedding and a marriage. We all love

weddings because they’re about romance and love. They are an event to celebrate. Only later do we realize how much work is required to experience a good marriage. One is an event. The other is a process. So it is with children. The birth of a child is a celebration, but the act of parenting is where the real work is required. To be blunt, the “labor pains” really begin the moment we begin raising our children. We need to be celebrating parents who do the “work” of developing great future adults.

Even if it means a “reverse suspension.”


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An Innovative Solution to Bad Behavior: Reverse Suspensions