In or Out: Discipline at HHS

Suspensions are inherently negative. That is simple and clear. No student should want to get a suspension. At the beginning of the year in Harrison High School, suspensions and disciplinary actions have been surprisingly frequent but have died down as of recent. 2021 is the district’s first year of full regular schooling and the leniency that was once afforded to students in the tough times of COVID-schooling has been mostly left behind. While leniency has been left behind, that does not mean that harsh policy has taken its place.

An incident recently took place where students sent an embarrassing video of another peer around. As a result of their actions, many of the students sending this video have since been punished. The administration of Harrison High School has tried to keep as many students in school as they can while also giving the proper amount of discipline to any specific case. Because of this large incident, it feels necessary for students to better understand the school’s policy and attitude towards taking disciplinary action. The Husky Herald worked with Harrison High School Principal Kimberly Beukema to better illuminate the process of discipline at Harrison. 

Ms. Beukema believes that severity is a huge factor in determining whether or not in-school or out-of-school suspension is required. Ms. Beukema is a supporter of progressive discipline, not a zero-tolerance policy that could get students suspended for a small infraction. What this progressive discipline sets out is an escalation of events leading to higher punishments. Small infractions will start out getting students a warning and after repeated rule-breakage, they will go to a meeting with a teacher or counselor, then a meeting with the principal allowing for possible punishment. Eventually, a student can be given a hearing with the superintendent of the district. Here, punishments can get to the level of one to two years of education at a different learning facility.

Ms. Beukema told The Husky Herald that discipline should always be a moment of reflection and an instance of teaching. It should not be about senselessly punishing a child for a harmful act they committed, but rather making sure they understand what they did was hurtful, and working to ensure they won’t do it again. Ms. Beukema connects her experience as an educator to her experience as a mother saying she knows it is not necessarily the student that is bad, but what they did does not represent themselves and was potentially harmful. 

Coming back to the point on severity, there are certain acts that can go straight to suspension. These acts all pertain to the endangerment of students’ and others’ health and well-being. If students are caught in possession on campus, that will result in an out-of-school suspension with no questions asked. Now if a student is providing substances to other students that will get them the immediate ramifications of a hearing with the superintendent.

The term “intentionally” is used in the Code of Conduct as a way to denote that bullying requires some sort of intent to harm. Ms. Beukema was asked whether or not she believes that the term “intentionally” means there needs to be specifically malicious intent to classify a case as bullying. She said that students should have the responsibility and maturity to take a moment to think, to pause any impulsive actions they’re about to make. Ms. Beukema believes students should consider if what they are doing is right and if it will hurt someone. Most of the time, if a kid was to say out loud to themselves what they were about to do, and give it a bit of thought, they would never do it. Even if someone had no malicious intent or wanted to hurt, what they do can still be very hurtful. While not meaning harm but still causing it will get a student punished, it can save them from a lot more trouble than if they were to mean harm. Punishment can be added to or lessened by a bit depending on the presence of malicious intent.

There are certain things where the administration can tell if a student meant to do wrong or if they just made a mistake. Ms. Beukema put forward the concept of mask-wearing as an example. Students’ masks can sometimes come down for whatever reason whether it be eating, drinking, or talking. Often students also forget to bring their masks back up. Not wearing a mask is an infraction of school rules, however, students aren’t going to get pulled into the office for something as simple as this. They’ll just be told to put it back up. Now, if a student is to clearly defy a teacher’s word about wearing a mask, then there will be a warning and possibly a visit to the office. Cases like this are extremely rare though because students normally just forget to wear it and don’t have the intent to go against the rule.

The threat of suspension is something that is of course supposed to keep students behaving well in school and not getting into any serious trouble. It acts as a negative incentive to keep students doing well. Ninth and tenth-grade students that have had a mostly clear record in the past and received an out-of-school suspension are often quite a bit troubled by it and then it never happens again. Ms. Beukema says that it comes down to the student. Someone with repeated infractions might care less than someone getting in trouble for the first time. Whenever it is appropriate, the mental health professionals at the school are included in discussions about and with students. They are also welcome to re-entry meetings after suspension and are there for students if a student feels they need some extra support.

Studies all over the country have taken place to determine the effect that suspensions and disciplinary actions have on students and one side of the argument uses the term the “pipeline to prison.” This term represents the increased chance that a student will end up in the juvenile or adult justice system due to a high number of disciplinary actions taken against them. These statistics are especially prevalent in zero-tolerance policy schools. A joint study done in 2011 by the University of Texas A&M and Council of State Governments Justice Center included nearly one million public secondary school students and recorded information over 6 years. Over this span, 60% of students were either suspended or expelled meaning a gigantic loss in instructional time. 15% of students were suspended or expelled 11 or more times and of that 15%, nearly half of them got involved in the juvenile justice system. Only 40% of that 15% graduated high school.

These statistics highlight the differences between Harrison High School and other zero-tolerance schools in the country. They show us potential advantages to Harrison High School’s approach of keeping students in school. Seeing what processes are taken in the deciding of disciplinary action should help the students of the school better understand our administrator’s thought process and help everyone get in trouble less and stay in the classroom more.