In response to the 3/26/13 post, “Getting Rid of ISS – Part 2,” a LYS Superintendent writes:

LYS Nation,

First, if you truly believe in keeping children in the classroom, do it.  There is nothing stopping you.  

Second, I virtually eliminated ISS on two high school campuses and now in my district.  The result of this work has been two-fold: it works for kids; most teachers hate it.  Now let’s explore a couple of ideas.

As you indicated children spend a whole lot of time in ISS for dress code and other trivial violations.  I would ask you these questions.

What are you trying to accomplish with your dress code?  

Is your academic program so strong you have time and resources to devote to dress code enforcement and other trivial issues?  

Can a child still learn with an earring?  

This is where Cain and I differ: I think dress code is largely a waste of time, for more than one reason.  

Cain will say dress code is important to teach children an expectation of middle class life.  That may certainly be true.  However, there is something between high school and most paths to the middle class life style, and it is called college.  I have taught at universities, and I can tell you student dress is an absolute free for all.  So for me, I see little value in the idea of holding the line in public schools on an issue that has dubious (zero?) academic benefits and is an absolute non-issue at every university I have ever seen.

Also, dress code and other trivial concerns are not really discipline issues, they are nuisances.  Some teachers like to call them discipline issues for a variety of reasons.  Some teachers can’t separate the issues of discipline from the fact they have no guarantee or right NOT to be annoyed by children.  Children CAN and WILL be annoying.  Other teachers know they can get administration concentrating on the petty things children do, and then leadership has no time to concentrate on meaningful adult issues, like improving teachers and instruction. And there is an unfortunate group of teachers who use the perception of discipline as a weapon against administration.

The old model was that if the child annoyed the teacher, the teacher got a three-day break from the child via ISS.  I had mentor principals who advised me to do just that.  And principals, don’t try to fool yourself into believing that staffing ISS with a certified teacher makes a difference.  There is simply no way a single teacher (particularly at the secondary level) can effectively teach a child all subject areas.  Are you committed to staffing your ISS with a full team of instructional core teachers?  I will bet your superintendent isn’t ready for you to do that.  

Keep in mind the idea of student discipline being out of control is universal and largely a myth.  Do the following Google search, “teacher student discipline perceptions.”  You will find teachers all over the world identify nuisances as discipline problems.  Even in the stereotypical “well disciplined” Asiatic countries you will find articles concerning teachers’ perceptions of student discipline problems.  I find that simply fascinating.    

SC Response First let me clarify my position on dress code.  If you have one, it should be:

1. Designed to further something the organization values.

2. Universal

3. Modeled by the adults in the organization

4. Enforced

If you will not, there is no cannot in this case, meet all four requirements, then don’t have a dress code. So in summary, model and enforce what you believe in or don’t be a hypocrite.

Second, if used correctly, dress code builds esprit de corps and provides children a model of purposeful dress.  The dress codes on my campuses were designed to give my students a model of (and a closet full of) appropriate job interview attire.  We dressed for success and for the job we wanted, not the job we had.  That is a life skill, not an academic skill.

I like your point about the three-day break.  I briefly worked for a Superintendent who told me to back off my no-expulsion, no-suspension, and no-ISS polices because my staff needed respite.  No mention that no one could match my campus for safety and performance.  I was faced with a classic, “If you and your boss have a problem… it is your problem” dilemma.  So I ignored his “Couldn’t be more wrong” suggestion and polished my resume.  If you are not willing to face the consequence of your convictions, then you don’t have any.  

I have to second your observation about the universal belief that student behavior is always getting worse. I recently spent a number of days assessing a large district.  One of the primary complaints from teachers was that discipline was out of control, which was creating a detrimental effect on instruction.  Here is what I observed after 24 hours of in-class observation on seventeen campuses. Only four instances of disruptive student behavior.  But the kicker was this; in all four cases the teacher was the antecedent.  In each case, poor or lazy adult practice set up a student to fail. And in each case, the teacher wanted something done to the student.  So maybe ISS is student respite from adults.  Something for me to consider.

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

  • Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction.” Individual copies available on! 
  • Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “Look at Me: A Cautionary School Leadership Tale” Individual copies available on! 
  • Now at the Apple App Store: Fun 5 Plans (Fundamental 5 Lesson Plan Tool); PW Lite (Basic PowerWalks Tool); PW Pro (Mid-level PowerWalks Tool) 
  • Upcoming Presentations: NASSP National Conference; The 21st Century High School Conference 
  • Follow Sean Cain and LYS on  and like Lead Your School on Facebook