Serve your detention or lose your textbooks

  1. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your textbooks.
  2. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your pencils and paper.
  3. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your band instrument.
  4. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your gym uniform.
  5. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your novel you’re reading for English class.
  6. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your graphing calculator.
  7. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your planner.

Do any of these make sense to you? Does this one?

  1. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will turn off your school laptop.

Apparently it does to one high school. Note also the public shaming orientation in the message below (“Well, we could email you but we choose instead to announce your name to the entire school…”). This is a ‘Character Counts‘ school district. Evidently the need to be respectful only runs in certain directions?

Note also the framing of the school laptops as a ‘nice resource to have,’ not an essential, core element of schooling. And the framing of social media as frivolous, not integral, powerful tools for learning.

The full message from the high school is below. Ugh. This might be even worse than when schools suspend kids for skipping class (“To teach you not to miss school, you’re going to miss some school…”). But, hey, it works so it must be okay, right?



Unexcused absences stand in the way of student success. To more effectively encourage students to attend class regularly, [XYZ] High is taking a new approach to dealing with unexcused absences.

We want students to be successful, and we can’t help them academically when they have unexcused absences. With only 180 school days we strive to insure all students make maximum academic growth. With that being said we do understand that students will miss school for a variety of reasons, which include being sick, doctor appointments, etc. In each of these cases we expect parents to call in and excuse their son or daughter. With that parental excuse, the student will have 2 days to make up work for credit from the classes missed the day of the absence.

Our big concern is when the student’s absence is not excused. What this tells us is that the parents or the school did not know where the student was. Any day we are not aware of the reason for an absence, an automated call goes home that night alerting parents/guardians that their son or daughter missed a class.

The parent is still able to clear the absence the day after the phone message.

The following process and procedure for addressing unexcused absences was announced to students earlier this week.

Every Monday morning  we will read over the PA the names of students with an unexcused absence the previous week and make them aware they have a 25 minute detention after school either Monday or Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. We also state that if students think they did not have an unexcused absence or they have a conflict, they need to see [YYY YYYYY] or [ZZZ ZZZZZ] during passing time to clear up any error or make other arrangements for serving the detention.

On Tuesday we send out emails to those students who did not serve their detention on Monday reminding the students to serve their 25 minute detention. On Wednesday we read the names one more time as a last reminder.

After Thursday’s opportunity to serve detention and a student has not served the detention or made other arrangements, we turn off the student’s computer until the detention is served.

We completely understand that the school issued computers are a resource to enhance student learning. However, we also know that the computers are a tool for social media that our students are very fond of using and think this approach will lead to desired results.

We implemented this for the first time this week and by the time it was noon on Friday 10 out of the 15 students still owing a detention had made arrangements to get their detention done as soon as possible.

In closing we have tried to put a process in place that will limit interruptions to classrooms, hold students accountable for their actions and have consequences that do not include missing class time (i.e., suspension).

7 Responses to “Serve your detention or lose your textbooks”

  1. Could’ve titled this post, “Because you missed some learning opportunities, we’re going to make you miss some more…”

    • Great point….I might add, “Because you missed some learning opportunities, we’re going to humiliate you and make you miss some more…”

      Way to motivate.

  2. Beyond the technology aspect, I see a couple serious red flags for this district.

    1. Publicly announcing the students with an unexcused absence would seem to be in pretty clear violation of some basic educational privacy laws.

    2. Detention is an antiquated system of punishment, and by their own admission, the district is only experiencing a 66% success rate (10 out of 15 students).

    3. No where in this approach does it address WHY the student has an unexcused absence.

    Good luck [XYZ] High! I think you’re going to need it.

  3. Like some others have commented I was stricken by how much this policy ignores external factors. The writing suggests [XYZ] High values compliance over context, which might help explain the marginal 66% success rate. How much higher might that number be if the corrective actions being taken were informed by circumstance? Better still, [XYZ] High might discover solutions to problems rather than symptoms.

    WYPR has an excellent series on this issue entitled, “Empty Desks: The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism.” The podcasts are compelling and revealing, especially Juwan and Javon Nobel’s story, “Getting to School is Harder than you Think.” If you’re interested in listening check it out:

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that the negative effects of chronic absenteeism extend beyond schools and classrooms. According to this article in Forbes it has a profound impact on many workplaces as well. You’ll also notice they do not include announcements over the loud speaker, detention, or loss of computer time as potential recommendations or solutions for consideration. Enjoy!

  4. What if [XYZ] school spent their time and energy on finding the root cause(s) for why their students are missing school instead of using a bandaid approach to their problems. Then once they determine the root cause(s), the school could spend their time and energy working on actions to reduce the unexcused absence problem. This could be a win-win for the students and the staff. Spend time on solutions rather than creating more problems!

  5. This whole process seems horribly shaming. [XYZ] school has chosen to treat its students like prisoners rather than people, they are taking away a basic right to privacy and property that is rightfully theirs. Furthermore, a student that is without access to their computer will surely fall behind in their classes. It is nearly impossible to stay up to date with all the homework they must do if they are deprived of the tool that facilitates the majority of that work. This could then cause the student to miss even more school, probably with unexcused absences, because they are not prepared for class and do not have the tools to do well, so they just don’t show up. If this school wants its students to make up unexcused absences, perhaps they could take a more civil approach and treat the kids with kindness and understanding instead of tyranny. A person who feels supported and accepted is more likely to comply with rules than someone who feels like a misunderstood outsider.

  6. Why would I allow my child to depend on a resource the school will turn off on a whim, as a threat, and why would I allow my child to attend a school district that thinks public shaming is a go to answer. 

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