Let’s talk about detention

Students who receive detention regularly don’t seem to be afraid of the punishment. If this is true, what, if anything, is a more effective policy? (Photo Courtesy Maddy Leen)

I have questioned the “theory” of detention at Leesville Road High School. I address school detention as a theory because I am not questioning its literal definition, but rather its purpose.

The most common definition of detention is a disciplinary action that is served to students who are deserving. Here at Leesville Road High School, we have lunch detention for offenses like tardies, misbehavior and misconduct. Lunch detention slips are served during second period, and the detention is the following day–served in the auditorium. The purpose of the detention, of course, for the student to not repeat the offence.

With this in mind, I questioned students during second period who had just received a detention slip. My first question was “Are you afraid of detention?”

While walking with them in the hall I got answers like “not really”,  “no; it’s only thirty minutes of lunch. I use it to catch up on sleep” and “detention isn’t nothing; it’s just easy to get into.”

After I saw a similar pattern in responses, I wondered why the school is still giving detention if it is not teaching students anything different. I finished my questioning by asking students “What would make detention more ‘scary’?”

I received answers like “It couldn’t be scary really; I guess I would fear it more if it was for a whole hour’’ and “I never want OSS again, I had so much work to make up”. It seemed like students feared longer and more severe punishment, which is expected.

With this information in mind, I talked to Dr. AJ Muttillo, Leesville’s principal. He explained to me that the detention policy at Leesville has changed since he has been here, and with the transition to SMART lunch, detention was expanded to thirty minutes. Dr. Muttillo said that the change in detention has “mixed results”, and that 96-97 percent of the student body are following the rules.

But, it seems to be not working for the same students who come to detention regularly, saying “it’s not changing their behavior in ways that we would like to.” These lunch detentions are considered minor offenses to the school and students, making the results of the offenses undesired.

By treating minor offenses with minor consequences, the minor offense will truly never be fixed. Dr. Muttillo agreed with this statement saying “[we] are looking for that point in which the consequence is uncomfortable enough that it changes a student’s behavior”. But, no action is being placed to change the detention policy–which I had expected.

This is because the policy seems to be working (for 96-97% of student body according to Muttillo) but there is room for productive change. Changing the consequence of minor offenses –tardy slips or teacher assigned detentions–will change the minds of students. But what I have seen from students who receive detention regularly is that the thirty minutes of lunch isn’t a strong deterrent.

I don’t have an answer to make 100 percent of Leesville students follow the detention policy. This is because there is no answer. There have been many forms of lunch detention at Leesville, 15 minutes at lunch, 30 minutes at lunch and even an hour after school. There is no change that could be made in order to change the mindset of students. Because essentially, students’ individual views of detention reflect their actions; meaning if a student would rather be 10 minutes late to class and serve a 30 minute lunch detention after–who’s (or what’s) going to stop them?

As long as students go to their assigned lunch detention each day, there are no problems or further actions taken. But, when students miss or skip lunch detentions, either a full 60 minute lunch detention is required and if that is missed the consequence results in ISS. But even students said “ ISS just helps me make up my work” and “ISS ain’t nothing”.

From a personal standpoint, I believe detention holds some purpose, meaning it is effective to the majority of students who never receive lunch detention. But for those who do go to lunch detention often, it is a personal choice that no disciplinary action could affect.  

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