Regardless where they are, one thought plagues the minds of most aspiring principals in the nation: How can I improve my school by decreasing out-of-school suspensions?

Unlike other suspendable offenses, are as difficult to define as willful defiance.  Carl Pinkston, a member of the Sacramento-based Black Parallel School Board, summarizes willful defiance as to “Willfully def(y) an authority (e.g. teacher, principals, SRO’s and school personnel)  to perform their duty.”

“A student comes into class late, wearing clothing that displeases(s) the school official, non respons(ive) to a question, rolling of eyes, dropping of pencil, etc,” explains Pinkston. “In fact, it’s a question of implicit bias of authority view of a student and the failure of classroom management.”

While the subjective nature of willful defiance continues to confuse school administrators across the country, one New Jersey school seems to have found their own creative solution.

The Yorkship Family School in Camden, New Jersey has restructured some classrooms into “calm rooms”–typically used as safe spaces for anxious students–a type of group counseling room where students who are sent out of class on grounds of willful defiance can communicate their problems and learn how to better handle their frustrations in the classroom.

“After looking at the number of students being suspended at such a young age, sent home for misbehaviors in the classroom and decided that we weren’t approaching the whole child,” Linda Brown-Bartlett said in an interview with NewsWorks. “So we created this calming room which is a safe space where students can come if they’re anxious or agitated (or) starting to loose control…we’ve changed the question when they come into the calming room as to not ‘What did you do?’ but ‘How did this happen? What’s going on?’ and trying to make it a little more personal for the child.”

So if one school was able to decrease suspensions with this method, should California schools implement calm rooms as well?

“No,” says Pinkston. “It’s a very old approach to the wrong problem. First of all, Restorative Justice practices and (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports)attempts to address the underlin(ed) cause of the student acting out and develop a strategy to restore the harm done. A calming room, let(s) the student settle down, but no one in authority ask the student the fundamental question – Why?”

These two differing views on how to handle willful defiance, directing more focus on the student or the environment, are considerable input for principals who want to consider the benefits of implementing calm rooms in their schools.