School Tackles Bad Behavior by Inviting Parents to Class Instead of Sending Kids Home

September 17, 2019 Updated: September 17, 2019

At Huntington East Middle School in West Virginia, administrators have taken a creative approach to behavioral reform. They have reworked the traditional “suspension” model of sending students home from school for poor behavior.

For student behavioral misconduct that is non-violent and not verbally abusive, the school began offering parents the option of a “reverse suspension.” Rather than simply sending the poorly behaved student home, the school invites their parents to the school to spend a day with their son or daughter.

How's this for a punishment: One school sends parents to class when their children misbehave. It's called "reverse…

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The idea blossomed after merging schools prompted a torrent of brand-new behavioral issues. “When we started combining schools, we had a lot of kids getting in trouble and getting suspended,” school parent partner Stephanie Powell told WOWK-TV.

Should Houston schools do this?

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The school was discouraged to discover that many students treated suspensions as time off from school; banishing students from the scene of their behavioral misconduct was, the school decided, the wrong approach.

The reverse suspension was implemented as a tentative experiment, but administrators quickly noticed significant changes. By far the most impressive change was the attitude of the implicated students.

Justin Young, a student at Huntington East Middle School, was receptive to the new initiative. “I was suspended multiple times last year,” he admitted to the news team, “but this year, not once.”

Young explained that when he returned home with his mom after their day of reverse suspension, they talked, and the message hit him. “She wanted to know if I acted like that when she was not around,” Young explained. He told his mom, “No.”

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“I wanted to be good for you,” the student explained. In doing so, Young became an example of how effective as a deterrent the reverse suspension could really be.

When interviewed, the school’s principal, Frank Barnett, said in 2016 that despite its apparent efficacy, the reverse suspension hadn’t become overused. “We try to avoid [suspension] at all costs,” Barnett clarified, “but there are times it cannot be avoided.”

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News Center Maine reported the procedure of reverse suspension in November 2018 and explained as follows: if a student is punished with, for example, three days of suspension, the first day is spent at home.

If a parent agrees to accompany their child to school on the second day (herein lies the “reverse” element of the equation), then the third day of suspension is struck off. Both students and their parents, therefore, have an incentive to take part.

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Around 30 families opted for reverse suspension as their preferred method of behavioral reform at Huntington East Middle School in the academic year 2015 to 2016.

Parent Stephanie Howell appreciated the school’s creativity. “Who as a parent wants to sit in class?” Howell exclaimed, speaking to WOWK-TV. “It’s embarrassing! It’s a good motivator to not have your parents come and sit with you,” she said.

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The embarrassment factor really worked. Huntington East Middle School’s inventive approach to eradicating bad behavior was first covered in the press in May of 2016; by then, Barnett claimed that reverse suspensions had already helped the school reduce incidents of suspension by two thirds.

Incidents of bad behavior in their entirety, he said, had fallen by more than 50 percent.

It remains divisive, but will reverse suspension catch on in schools nationwide?