Suspension has been a commonly used disciplinary method in schools for decades. Unfortunately, it also has no positive impact on students. What’s worse, these same children often develop a dislike for law enforcement that lasts into adulthood. This is a dangerous cycle that we have to stop to help students stay in school, develop positive relationships with adults in positions of authority, and achieve greater success. At my school, we found a solution. Read on and you will discover where the idea came from and how to replicate it in your school.

DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs involving law enforcement presence in schools were common two decades ago. At almost the same time these programs slowly faded out of schools, we encountered some of the most prevalent rise in violence in schools. Confronted with this reality, smaller communities and suburban schools took a page from the large, urban school playbook and began hiring school resource officers (SSOs). Their primary purpose is security, but they can do so much more.

Typically, SROs (we call them SSOs, for school security officers) are retired law enforcement. With 25 years of law-enforcement experience behind them, they bring a breadth of knowledge and skill not previously accessible to school communities. I decided to make the best of these resources and the results are impressive. Here is how we did this, in simple strategic steps that can be replicated anywhere SSOs are employed.

The Stationhouse Adjustment method
I once heard of an intervention practice employed in New Jersey that immediately caught my attention: the Stationhouse Adjustment. A Stationhouse Adjustment is an alternative method that law-enforcement agencies may use to handle first-time juvenile offenders who’ve committed minor offenses within their jurisdiction that do not result in a criminal record.

Essentially, this program offers an alternative to punitive action. The intent is to decrease the recidivism rate. What a great idea, right? Provide a constructive intervention that does not bear a cost to the minor and lowers the risk of repeated criminal activity. This clearly could be brought into schools, especially to decrease suspension and bullying behavior!

I borrowed from law enforcement and coined the term “Schoolhouse Adjustment,” (SHA) implemented as a replacement to suspension in my school. It works with resounding success. We have slashed our suspension from 6.4 percent of our students to 1.6 percent and kept steady low numbers for several years! In addition, bullying has decreased by one third.

Our SHA program requires an SSO to administer lessons geared to the offense. Because retired law enforcement are trained in gang awareness and drug and alcohol abuse, they have an intimate knowledge of the juvenile corrections system that can be invaluable to their lesson delivery. They also extend the support network for students who are troubled. The more adults a child can be exposed to and develop positive relationships with, the better their long-term success and relationship with the law enforcement figures. Finally, by virtue of their position as retired law enforcement officers, SSOs have a built-in respect with some students and an inherent animosity with others. A positive intervention with each of these instead of discipline is universally advantageous, because building relationships is the most effective way any educator can reach children.

How to start your own SHA

  1. A student commits has committed an act of misconduct/bullying that warrants follow up. As a typical antecedent to severe discipline (i.e., suspension), which removes students from instruction, the schoolhouse is administered, especially as a first offense alternative intervention.
  2. The student is referred to administration due to misconduct/bullying.
  3. The student is recommended for a schoolhouse adjustment.
  4. During non-core subject instruction, the student is scheduled for a schoolhouse adjustment with the SSO.
  5. The student meets with the SSO, who provides a written report of the schoolhouse adjustment. In the case of harassment, for example, the SSO focuses on respect toward others and consequences for failure, both moral and legal.
  6. Student is tracked for recurring incidences, to include in data that warrants value of the program.

Positive results
As mentioned before, we have significantly reduced suspensions and bullying incidents, in large part due to SHA. This program is part of our larger framework of Positive Behavior Support in Schools, a research-proven program that celebrates positive behavior and looks for alternatives to negative behavior. Try this at your school and you will see the benefits!

About the Author:

Dr. Michael Gaskell has been principal of Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick, N.J. since 2006, following experience as a special educator and assistant principal in Paramus, NJ. Gaskell achieved his doctorate in educational leadership in 2014 and continues to model the pursuit of lifelong learning as he serves as a mentor to new principals in other schools through the NJEA Leaders to Leaders program. In his work as a principal, he works tirelessly to support instructional excellence, his faculty, the district, and, most important, the children as benefactors of idea sharing.