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Is Fining Students the Best Way to Discipline?

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Well, it’s November which means that most of us are in the thick of the school year.  The newness for the kids has worn off and what seemed like fun before is now starting to feel like sheer drudgery.  The snooze button is getting a workout and the cheerful demeanor we mothers had at 6 AM in September has been replaced with a motherly growl as we try and get our kids to the bus on time.

The kids are feeling it too.  We’re not far enough in so that they can see the light of spring at the end of a very long school tunnel.  Middle schoolers are dragging their feet on their way to math, making them few minutes late.  High schoolers are starting to wonder how important “Introduction to Primitive Basket Weaving” really is in the grand scheme of their lives and are considering ditching just to get a little extra time at Little Caesars for lunch.  And frustration is mounting…to the point where the students might let a four-letter word slip every now and again.

Oh c’mon.  We’ve all done it.

But what would happen if your son or daughter came home, not with a detention slip…but with a notice that they’d been fined for their misdeeds?

That’s right.  Some schools across the country have adopted a no-tolerance program when it comes to transgressions such as tardiness, cursing, and ditching.  And we’re not talking pocket change here.  In Concord, California, the city adopted a policy that could cost students (and their parents) up to $500 for ditching, making it illegal for any child under the age of 18 to be out of school without a valid excuse.  In Texas, one student’s fines mounted to $637 for cursing in class.  And in Utah, one school is giving the kids the option of a half an hour of detention or $5 for every tardy.

As we all know, we tend to pay more attention if there’s the possibility something might impact our wallets.  If your child knows that she may have to get a summer job instead of hang out with her friends to pay for all of the fines she’s accrued…would she make more of an effort to get to class on time?

But what about the kids who are habitual ditchers and don’t have much faith invested in school anyway? Would mounting fines make them feel like they are sinking into a hole they can’t get out of…so why even bother?

Are teachers across the country sighing with relief, thinking that parents might start paying more attention to their kids’ behavior…or with annoyance at having to implement one more policy?

What do you think?  Is this the best way to get the students’ attention?  Is this the best way to get the parents’ attention?

Is the path to better discipline…paved with fines?

Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on ” finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.” She is also a volunteer speaker with the Donor Alliance of Colorado.

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  • comment avatar Lisa November 3, 2011

    No, is the answer to your question.

    Research shows that intermittent positive reinforcement is the most effective way to change and maintain behavior. Punishment and negative attention are shown to reinforce the behaviors we want to extinguish.

    Schools (and parents) struggling with this can go to the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports website for more information and resources –

    It is being implemented in schools all over the country including Colorado and significant decreasing the number of discipline referrals and increasing students social and academic success.

    Thanks for bringing up this issue.

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