TV, No Homework Can Turn Suspensions Into Vacations
Monday, November 28, 2005
This was Kymber and Shawnte Andre-Sanders's punishment early this month:
The Prince William County sisters spent the day in their pajamas, luxuriating in front of the television, contemplating 50 Cent's song "Window Shopper," T.G.I. Friday's chicken-sandwich commercial and, occasionally, such CNN news flashes as "Elvis Foils Robbers."
"Wow, wow, wow -- look at him," said Shawnte, 14, staring at the picture of an impersonator who had helped police catch a man suspected of stealing memorabilia from the Elvis-A-Rama museum in Las Vegas.
The sisters, good students who had never gotten into serious trouble at school before, they said, were suspended for five days for a bus stop tussle. How they spent those days highlights an increasingly intense debate about the effectiveness of such punishment in one of the education system's murkier realms of justice.
Sitting on the floor of their bedroom, Kymber, 15, laughed, adjusted her Rugrats blanket and then fell under the hypnotic powers of the $200 cell phone she bought with her own money. "I just sit and wait for calls," she said, her eyes darting between the television set and her phone, which she constantly flipped open and shut as if it were an appendage in need of exercising.
If hardship seemed suspiciously absent, so was a fear of stigma.
Kymber picked up her phone and started chatting with a friend, who, as it happened, also was suspended.
"Are you not at school? Are you home? Did you get in trouble [with your parents] for being suspended? Why were you suspended the other times? Dang. You're a troublemaker," Kymber prattled to the friend. "Tell me the other two reasons you were suspended. Tell me the stupid reasons. Oh, a tardy? What's the other one? Tell me. Mine's a dumb one, too. Cussing around the principal? You're lying. You're real quiet around me."
This is what the sisters did not do on their temporary banishment from Stonewall Jackson High School near Manassas: class work or homework.
The rules governing suspensions -- particularly whether students get credit for doing work during their punishment or are allowed to make it up afterwards -- vary among and within the country's 15,000 school systems. Depending on the severity of the student's conduct, a school might not permit a student to make up exams or graded assignments.
And what happened to the shame of it all?
For some school scofflaws, sitting at home and watching music videos all day might seem like a real coup. But work-free suspensions can result in students scrambling to catch up on work and getting zeros on exams administered during their absence.