Detention: Time Out or Time In?


It’s 4:30 p.m. and senior Alexandra Randolph is sitting in a teacher’s room, doing her math homework. Randolph sits amongst her classmates, who all seem to be working on their respective assignments. Outside the room, she notices her friends in the hallway doing their homework by their lockers. What’s the difference between the two groups of students? Randolph is serving a detention.

Detention is an after-school discipline given to students to reflect and learn what steps should be taken to avoid future infractions.

The most common reasons for detention are for minor infractions or for a combination of three uniform or tardy infractions. Minor infractions, which are cleared every semester, include failing to sign in or out of the Upper School Office, parking violations, missing scheduled meeting times with teachers and unexcused absences from assemblies or form meetings.

These infractions can be assigned by Assistant Upper School Head Elizabeth Jones or any of the Form Deans, who also serve as proctors for the monitored one-hour detention period.

“Detention is a consequence, and as a community, we have expectations. Those expectations range from behavioral to academic to things like uniform,” Jones said.

Detentions are assigned Monday to Thursday at 4 p.m. and designated mornings at 7 a.m. They must be served the week they are given. The location for each detention changes between various Upper School classrooms, according to which teacher is serving detention duty. Randolph served hers in Form IV Dean Rebekah Calhoun’s classroom.

But with major infractions come bigger consequences. Saturday detentions, served from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., are the next level of punishment. They are given after a student starts to accrue many after-school detentions, if they fail to attend their assigned after-school detention or for more severe minor infractions, including behavioral ones.

Along with a stronger uniform policy, detention has been another school policy that has been “given additional attention and enforcement” this year.

“There is a perception that detention is completely different now, but we have changed much with detention. It remains to be proctored and after school,” Jones said.

Senior Anne Marie Gingery, who received two detentions her sophomore year for a combination of tardy infractions, including arriving late to her first period class and not getting to another class on time, doesn’t understand the purpose behind a detention.

Gingery used detention time to do her homework. Because electronics are not allowed during detention, she was not able to use her laptop. But there were no reflections involved.

“It’s just time spent in a room,” Gingery said. “I would have been doing the same thing in a different location.”

So do detentions serve as punishments or as time to catch up on homework?

Jones describes detentions as not only a consequence, but also for a time of reflection. “I hope students view it as a time for reflection,” Jones said. “I hope students take it as an initial consequence and an opportunity to recommit to community expectations.”

According to Upper School Guidance Counselor Judy Ware, new to Hockaday this year, detentions should serve as a gentle reminder for rules in places.

“The purpose behind detention at Hockaday, as in every other high school where I’ve been a counselor, is to get the student’s attention regarding a rule or infraction without being overly punitive,” Ware said.

Randolph agrees that detention does cause an inconvenience. As vice president of JETS, she was not able to spend time preparing for the next robotics competition due to having to serve detention.

Regarding whether or not detention is a learning experience, Randolph thinks there are steps you should take.

“If you’re late all the time, you probably need to manipulate your schedule a little bit. Or if your skirt is short, do something about it,” Randolph said.

Ware, who most recently served as a guidance counselor for Highland Park High School, is familiar with the detention process. Punishment for not following rules at Highland Park, like many public schools, mirrors Hockaday’s same rules.

“At public schools, students have to turn their shirts inside out because they’re inappropriate, but for the most part it’s the same,” Ware said.

Regarding students who live far away and receive detentions in response to arriving late to their first period class, though things like traffic are out of anybody’s control, Ware still believes it’s best to plan ahead.

“They know what they’re getting into when they get in Hockaday, and if it means waking up at 6 a.m., then that’s that,” Ware said.

Regardless, detention can be viewed as a learning experience.

“We learn more from bad things than good things,” Ware said. “If you think getting a detention is bad, then there’s probably something in it to learn.”