An Alternative to a School Suspension or Expulsion

16 Sep

I walked to town this morning to see The Family, a film with Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones.

But this post is not about The Family. It’s about a Contra Costa Times headline I saw halfway to the theater about Bay Area schools suspending suspensions and turning to alternatives in place of suspension.

This issue is not new to me. I taught for thirty years [1975-2005] and for sixteen of those years I taught English, journalism and then reading at Nogales High School in La Puente, California.

At Nogales, we had a place to send kids who refused to cooperate in class and/or who continued to disrupt the learning environment even after being warned several times to stop the unacceptable behavior.

Sharon Noguchi wrote the piece for the Contra Costa Times, and she reported, “Pressed by law enforcement, civil-rights advocates and the realization that the way they disciplined students was failing, schools are keeping on campus more kids who talk back, throw tantrums or even threaten teachers.”

In addition, she wrote: “But teachers at schools elsewhere say taking away the option to suspend creates a disciplinary void and sticks them with rowdy or even dangerous kids in class.”

As a teacher at Nogales, I usually dealt with rowdy or dangerous kids on a daily basis. But I could not suspend even one of my students from school. I could send them to an in-house suspension center that was called BIC—meaning Back in Control or Behavior Improvement Center. I have no idea what BIC meant. I may have asked once but forgot. I like both options, because they are both true.

A certified teacher who was working toward an administrative credential was in charge of BIC at Nogales—most of the time. Nogales had about 100 teachers on staff and there were between 2,300 and 3,000 students [depending on enrollment], and BIC is where we sent the rowdy and dangerous students who refused to cooperate in class.

For example, I send students to BIC almost every day and they were usually the same students. The teacher in charge of BIC once told me that 5% of the students earned 95% of the 20,000 annual referrals to BIC—that would be between 115 to 150 students earning 19,000 of those referrals or 126 – 165 each.

The primary job of a teacher is to teach the subject he or she is responsible for. This job can take 60 to 100 hours a week and that time includes creating lesson plans and correcting student work.  When in class, teachers are involved with students and there is seldom any time to sit down and plan or correct. If a teacher teaches five classes for five hours a day for five days, that is twenty-five hours in class. The rest of the sixty to one-hundred hours is mostly spent planning or correcting work.

With an average class load of 34 students or 170 a day in five different classes, it is difficult to impossible to play the role of a therapist-parent replacement who is expected to undo the damage of dysfunctional parents and/or guardians who are responsible for the home environment that caused a rowdy or even dangerous student to become that way in the first place.

A teacher’s job is to teach the subject he or she was hired to teach and to make sure the annual standardized test scores teachers are held accountable for show improvement so the media and critics of public education will have less fuel to criticize the public schools and demonize teachers—something far too common in the United States.

If school suspension is not an option, schools must provide a place on campus where trained professionals deal with overcoming the damage caused at home and in the child’s environment. Most teachers do not have the time to do this.

For students who do not show improvement, he or she should be taken out of the home and sent to a juvenile boot-camp school where he or she lives in military style barracks with teachers and administrators trained to be tough disciplinarians—for example, modeled after a U.S. Marine Corps boot camp that doubles as a school. 

Every punishment or stick should come with a reward or carrot. The rowdy and/or dangerous child who earned his or her way into a book camp school instead of a suspension/expulsion from a regular public school must earn his or her way out of the boot-camp school with improved behavior, literacy, math, and writing skills.

And those kids who fall off the proverbial-behavior wagon in the regular classroom get sent back to the book-camp school automatically.

Oh, and I enjoyed watching The Family and can’t understand why the average fan and critic gave this film a SO-SO review as reported on Fandango.  I think they missed the point that children and even parents are a product of the environment they grow up in and life is relative to that fact—something that many in America elect to be deaf, dumb and blind to.

Discover It’s the Parents, Stupid


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to kill Americans.

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4 responses to “An Alternative to a School Suspension or Expulsion

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    September 16, 2013 at 17:16

    Reblogged this on Lloyd Lofthouse.

  2. Richard Sutton

    September 17, 2013 at 06:57

    Very timely post, Lloyd, and in light of some recent headlines here (Teachers help students cheat, etc.), it is beginning to seem as though the teacher’s job description is moving again. There seems to be a misguided belief that the corporate model is one the schools should aspire to. The same actually is building throughout government. Unfortunately, moving kids through the system duJour is not an education, yet that seems to be exactly what a growing body of parents are satisfied with. I also remember our next-door neighbor who had to go to the hospital directly from her eight grade social studies class when an unruly student assaulted and beat her. Discipline breaking down to this point is as much a call for help by our entire society as it is in that one district. When I was a schoolkid, back in the 1950s, very few kids fell through the cracks to that extent, but now, I see that the costs to provide the equivalent level of education is just too rgeat for the ageing and often unemployed district population to bear, so instead of pushing for the best education for the money, we instead push for the most expedient education for the money. This will not play out well in ten years, when these students have to find a way to make a living in an ultra competitive work environment and become useful members of our skewed society.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      September 17, 2013 at 07:36

      True. But I don’t think we have to wait ten years. The unemployment rate reflects the value of an education or the lact of one. For example, the unemployment rate for adults with less than a high school diploma is 12.4% with median weekly earnings of $471 compared to a 4.5% unemployment rate for adults with a bachelor’s degree with median weekly earnings of $1,066.

      A high school diploma does help but not by much. The unemployment rate for adults who only graduated from high school and went no further was 8.3% in 2012 with median weekly earnings of $652.

      Source of this information is the Bureau of Labor Statistics at

      When I was still in the classroom teaching, I approached administration with a suggestion that the district put together a PR program that every teacher in the district could use starting with kindergarten and continue through 12th grade that would teach kids and parents the true value of an education. I was told that it wasn’t our job to do that and to forget about it.

      Instead, the academic assembly line keeps moving without stopping to fix anything and kids keep falling through the cracks and getting left behind or lost. It is interesting to note that the United States may be the only developed country in the world without a vocational track that leads to a high school degree. Even Japan has a vocational track running parallel to an academic track designed to move students into college while the vocational track trains and moves kids into jobs right out of high school. Vocational training in the US usually starts after high school and is offered by community colleges and a private education industry that many of America’s poor cannot afford and without a higher level of literacy the odds of succeeding at vocational training is dim.

      In fact, in Japan about 25% of high school graduates graduated on a vocation track and go directly into the labor market already trained for a job (look deeper and you will discover that this holds true for just about every other developed nation but America).

      Source: From High School to Work in Japan: Lessons for the United
      States? @

      If we cannot depend on dysfunctional parents to help out, cooperate and learn what it means to be a parent and then fix the problem at home, then that job will have to fall to the culture and the schools to fix but the patchwork set of laws making teachers responsible for all of the cultural problems in America that have not succeeded will Continent to fail while most of the country turns a blind eye to the truth making teachers and the teachers unions the scapegoats.

      And there are powerful political and religious groups in the United States that want the public education system to fail so they can open private schools that will be designed to educate kids to think and behave as those political and religious groups want—that’s called brainwashing, something that the public schools don’t do in an organized way. In the public schools, if brainwashing happens, it usually happens by accident—not be design.

  3. Neil Murphy

    September 22, 2013 at 10:54


    Your assessment of the recent development in the Bay Area School District is spot on. If disruptive students are left in the classroom, then the learning environment will be compromised for all students. My prediction is that test scores will decline in the Bay Are School District because teachers will now be spending even more time on discipline rather than on instruction. Also, some parents will take their students out of the public schools and enroll them in private schools. The Bay Area School District’s proposal represents another example of a misguided policy in which the long-term consequences are not accounted for.



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