Illustrated by Helena Warner
In 2010, a University of Nebraska study found that detention is one of the most common forms of high school discipline. Although additional data is sparse, it’s fair to assume that this still holds true. However, at M-A, detentions feel much less visible. How do students get them? When are they held? Do they even exist?
According to Administrative Vice Principal Tara Charles, “Detentions are submitted through a Google form by any campus staff member.” Administration closely monitors the form, and, after a submission occurs, immediately delivers a slip to the student. The most common reasons for detentions are tardiness, phone usage, being in an off-limits area, leaving campus, or coming back after leaving campus. For instance, five tardies in a single week automatically trigger a detention.
Detentions occur after school on Wednesdays and Thursdays for a 45-minute period during which students must “self-occupy” themselves. Charles said, “If students want to sit and stare at a wall for 45 minutes, then so be it. However, we’ve found that most students are relatively productive.” Students choose when they want to come in for detention, but Charles said, “Students cannot attend any school events, such as basketball games, football games, or dances, until the time is served.” Charles mentioned that, because of this, most detentions are usually served relatively quickly after being received.
There are several interesting trends in the data on detentions at M-A. Most notably, detentions are skewed towards younger students. Of the 78 detentions last semester, Charles stated that “17 [of the instances] were freshmen, 31 were sophomores, 21 were juniors, and nine were seniors.” This could be because older students have a better understanding of what is and isn’t allowed on campus. Overall, the number of detentions has stayed relatively constant. This past fall, there were 78 detentions, six more than the 2021-22 spring semester. However, many teachers use their own detention systems rather than the school’s formal detention process.
If detentions don’t work, meaning they don’t reduce the particular student’s misbehavior, then the administration resorts to harsher measures. For the most part, this is relatively rare. Charles said, “There are only a handful of students who have had more than a single detention.” There aren’t guidelines on which each of the following measures should be imposed, but Charles’ goal is to make the consequence relevant to the violation that the student commits.
Community service is one of the options. Mainly, this takes the form of campus cleanups. However, this is only relevant to violations involving graffiti, like the recent instances of swastikas at school. A more broad, all-encompassing solution is Saturday School. It is hosted by a particular teacher who is trained in restorative justice practices and takes place every two weeks from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Charles said, “Saturday School is sort of an all-inclusive detention/community service endeavor in which students participate in reflection activities that take them back to why they ended up in Saturday School in the first place.” However, assigning Saturday School isn’t the norm, and is generally only used when no other disciplinary action works.
Finally, in the worst-case scenarios, in which a student poses a significant risk to other students and staff members, school administration can suspend or expel students. Recently, administrators resorted to such extreme measures when students brought guns to campus. Additionally, students are suspended or expelled if they violate the California Education Code. These violations include sexual harassment, physical violence, and bringing weapons or firearms to school.