Designing an Effective In-School Suspension Program

Perhaps more frequently than ever before, administrators choose an in-school suspension over the out-of-school alternative. There are many reasons for this choice, but perhaps the most obvious is the academic advantage of keeping a student within a supportive learning environment. When a student is removed completely from the school a wonderful learning opportunity is potentially lost. So what constitutes an effective in-school suspension program? The answer to this question varies from school to school, but the foundation of successful programs remains constant.

Neil Blomberg is a member of the Department of Education and Human Services at University of Villanova. He believes an in-school suspension is a “discipline model where a student is removed from the classroom and compelled to stay in an ISS centre for a variable length of time, ranging from part of a day to several days in a row”. The in-school suspension “focuses on behaviour changing strategies, ranging from punitive to rehabilitative actions that attempt to stop or change student misbehaviour without having the student removed from the school environment”.

Jim Burns, an administrator known for his presentations on bullying, motivating disaffected students, diffusing power struggles, character education, and leadership, believes that the key components to an effective in-school suspension program are, in short:

  • Respect –  Mutual respect must be established between the instructor and the students assigned the program.
  • Accountability – Students must be held accountable for completing assignments given while they are away from class.
  • Compliance – Student compliance is a must, and non-compliance  while in in-school suspension must be addressed.
  • Room location – The assigned in-school suspension space should be far enough away from the general population of the school, but close enough to allow for administrative visits.
  • Amount of time assigned – Administration and only administration should assign students to the ISS room, and should be the only ones to decide length of stay.

More specifically, Craig Cummings , the coordinator of alternative education programs within Howard County Public Schools, has outlined the following components as essential ingredients of an in-school suspension program.

  • A clear statement of purpose.
  • A clear set of expectations for students.
  • An academic component that allows students to complete their class work.
  • A requirement that teachers provide daily assignments to students in the program.
  • A counselling component delivered by someone with the appropriate expertise.
  • Provisions for parent involvement.
  • Provisions for monitoring student progress upon return to the classroom.

Furthermore, Anne Wheelock, a research associate with the Progress Through the Education Pipeline Project at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, outlines the following traits of an effective in-school suspension program.

  • Ways to ensure in-school suspension is appropriate.
  • A term limit; students should not be suspended indefinitely.
  • Problem-solving and/or mediation (including peer mediation) sessions among teachers and students or students and students, which result in written contracts that spell out future expectations.
  • Ensuring students come to the program with academic assignments to complete.
  • Professionals to staff the program, such as a teacher who can assess students for unidentified learning difficulties, assist in assignment completion, and by a counsellor who can explore root causes of problems, refer students to community services, and engage with parents.

After reading these and other suggested components, and reflecting on my own experiences, I created the effective in-school suspension model you see below. It was my intention to illustrate the critical components of such a program while clarifying the path of a student assigned to an in-school suspension.

ISS ModelNotice that before a student begins the in-school suspension a conference must first be held with students and parents. During this conference the Principal will communicate the decision to remove the student from the school’s general population by in-school suspension. It is critical to involve the parents in the process and to ensure understanding of why they decision has been made.

The student then moves on from the conference to an in-school suspension. During this time it is necessary for students to complete assignments being missed during that day. Administrators and teachers should develop an efficient and practical way for class work to be collected and delivered to the student. Students should also complete a process of personal reflection. This reflection will ensure that the student is thinking about his or her infraction and ways in which the same mistakes can be avoided in the future. Students must also have access to a counsellor and academic support if required. This is especially if the incident was socially triggered, or if the student already receives a form of learning support.

Before transitioning to the classroom another conference must be had between the principal and student. This gives the administrator an opportunity to review the progress that the student has or has not made, and ultimately decide if reintegration into the regular classroom is the immediate best course of action.

Upon returning to the regular classroom environment, monitoring should be the responsibility of the teachers, parents, counsellors, as well as the principal. If the in-school suspension process has not yet had a positive effect on the student the principal will determine if additional consequences are required.

Hopefully, by designing a well thought out in-school suspension program, we as educators will better our ability to fulfill our students’ needs, both academically and behaviourally. In the end the goal is to help our students to become successful mindful learners, while making our schools better places in which to learn!


Additional Resources

Burns, J. (n.d.). Keys to an effective in-school suspension program. A brief yet descriptive piece ab

Clark, S. (n.d.). Alternatives to suspension keep kids in school.

Delisio, E. R. (2007). Evaluating in-school suspension programs.

Delisio, E. R. (2008). In-school suspension: A learning tool.

Is your in-school suspension a place or a program? (2008).

Peterson, R. L. (n.d.). Ten alternatives to suspension.

Standards and protocols. (2008) Maryland Public Schools.

Teach Safe Schools. (n.d.). Alternatives to out-of-school suspension.

Walker, K. (2006). In-school suspension alternatives.

Blog Signature


What do you think? Leave a Reply!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”

- John Maxwell

%d bloggers like this: