Real Life

Detention: How Long Can A Teacher Keep You In At Lunch And After The Bell?

Is it illegal to keep students after the bell?

Keeping students in school after the bell rings is a popular trope in coming-of-age movies. The magic word ‘detention’ is a feared punishment for many delinquent kids in film and cartoons! But just how legal is this practice in the real world? In this article, we answer whether it’s legally OK to hold students after the bell and look at the relevant legislation.

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Is It Illegal To Keep Students After The Bell?

There are no laws that make it illegal for a teacher to keep students after a bell. With that said, the law does protect students from unfair punishment. In that regard, a teacher can’t issue punishments that prevent a child from being able to eat lunch or go to the bathroom.

What Does The School Bell Mean?

The school bell denotes the divisions of time throughout the school day. Most school bells ring at the start of the day, between each class, and at the end of the day.

A bright red school bell
(Credit: Gettyy)

The span of time between the first and last bell can be considered the formal school day, during which all policies of the school must be followed. For example, Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino announced that by 2020, students must keep their phones in their lockers during school hours, using the wording from first to last bellto denote the school hours.

Who Creates And Enforces The Laws That Govern Student Punishments? 

According to Youth Law Australia, Each school is responsible for making their own rules and to set reasonable punishments for breaking these rules.Because teachers become the legal guardians of students the moment they enter the campus, they’re 100% within the law to set punishments that involve having students stay after class.

However, if a student feels that they’ve been given an unfair punishment, they have the option of complaining to their school’s governing body. For private schools, they can file a complaint with the school board; for public schools, they can file a complaint at the state’s Department of Education.

Are There Any Rules That Specifically Govern Detention Policies?

In Victoria, schools are required to abide by the Victoria Department of Education Student Engagement Policy Guidelines. These guidelines say,Where students are detained after school to complete school work, or to undertake additional or new work or duties: the time of detention should not exceed forty-five minutes.This means that teachers can only keep students after the bell for a maximum of 45 minutes. 

Many parents might ask, How long can a teacher keep you in at lunch?The Victorian guidelines add that students may not be held in detention for more than half the time allocated for any recess,and that detention should be held at a reasonable time and place.

A young boy writing linens on a chalkboard
(Credit: Getty)

In Queensland, detentions must be governed by a ‘safe, supportive and disciplined school environment procedure’, which every school must have as mandated by the Queensland Department of Education. According to this procedure, it’s the principal’s responsibility to manage after-hours detentions and coordinate with delinquent students’ parents. 

The principal must [consult] with parents about a suitable day/time in which the detention is to be completed within any parameters set by the school” and “notify the student and their parent of the school’s procedures, including the responsibilities of the student, parent and school in relation to supervision arrangements and start and finish times.

A principal and teacher meeting with a parent
(Credit: Getty)

It’s clear that in these two states, detention after the bell isn’t a punishment that’s given out lightly, but is carefully governed by their respective Department of Education policies. 

This is a very important consideration for students to take public transport, as overly-long detention hours will force them to ride home late and put themselves at risk. It’s also a concern for parents who pick-up their children from school. In fact, the guidelines in Victoria require schools to consider the family arrangements of each student: 

Schools must ensure that…alternative measures are negotiated with parents whose family circumstances are such that the students’ completion of after-school work would create undue hardship (e.g. where students regularly supervise younger siblings in the absence of parents, or where limited travel alternatives for students are available).

Some schools set aside specific hours for after-hours detention. For example, Henley High School in SA designates Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, between 3:15 and 4:00 PM, for detention. This schedule can be negotiated by students after consultation. As with nearly all detention procedures in Australian schools, detentions must be logged and acknowledged by parents, the student, and the issuing teacher.


While it’s not illegal to hold students after the bell, there are very strict guidelines in place for detention that prevent it from being abused. Detention is an important tool in every school’s disciplinary arsenal, but improper use can lead to doing more harm than good.

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