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At the District 65 School Board meeting on Oct. 5, administrators presented their plan to provide an alternative to suspending a student for behavioral issues. Under the plan, the District will offer counseling services to the student and his or her parents in a further attempt to keep the student in school and to address the underlying causes of the behavioral issues.
While new, the plan builds on programs the District already has in place to address student behavior.

Last year, there was a total of 456 incidents that led to suspensions in the District, said Paul Brinson, chief information officer for the District. A chart presented by the District reflects that 83 percent of the suspensions were of black students, 10 percent were of white students, 4 percent were of Hispanic students, and 3 percent were of multi-racial students. Superintendent Hardy Murphy noted that 143 of the incidents that led to the suspensions were at Rice School, a school for students with disabilities.

Mr. Brinson said the number of suspensions in 2008-09 was down from 609 in the prior year.

The New Alternative Plan

Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said, “The plan provides for parent and student counseling to reduce or eliminate out of school suspensions for Category II and Category III behavioral offenses as defined in the Student Behavior Violation Consequences Matrix.”

Category II includes agressive behavior, assault and a pattern of bullying. Category III includes possession of drugs or alcohol, assault of a school employee and breaking and entering.

In the 2008-09 school year, four types of Category II and III behavioral offenses accounted for 87 percent of the suspensions: physical violence; disruption/distracting behavior; disrespect of school authority; and disrespectful, aggressive of threatening behavior.

The overall goals of the program, Ms. Shultz said, are to reduce the number of days a student misses school because of a suspension; to provide more direct support to students whose behavior reaches a level that indicates a need for work in conflict resolution, problem-solving, and/or anger management; to build home-school connections to help parents and guardians to support behavioral expectations; and to allow school staff to be proactive in working directly with students to help teach skills that are associated with greater success in school.

Joyce Bartz, special services supervisor, said, “If a student comes up for suspension … a principal would sit down with the parents and student and would contract with them for counseling sessions.” The counseling sessions would either occur during the school day with a social worker or psychologist, or in the evening with a social worker, she said.

The District would require one hour of counseling for every day a student would have been suspended, said, Ms. Bartz. There will be no cost to parents who agree to participate in the counseling sessions.

Ms. Schultz said there would be flexibility in scheduling the time of the counseling sessions, but added, “We’d like to do it as quickly as possible. …We really want to encourage this…because we want to involve parents to provide supports to the students, to change those behaviors.”

Parents will have the option to decline to participate in the counseling sessions. If they decline the counseling, the student would be suspended.

One Additional Means

District 65 administrators emphasized that the alternative-to-suspension program is one additional way to address behavioral issues at the schools, and that it fits within the Positive Behavior Intervensition and Supports program (PBIS), which was implemented in the District about 7 years ago. Under PBIS, schools track student behavior and “target groups of students based on their need for behavior interventions,” said Tena Washington, a school social worker who will provide counseling in the alternative-to-suspension program.

The intensity of the interventions increases depending on the severity of the behavioral issues.

Ms. Bartz said, “Tier III interventions are really comprehensive plans for a student.” She said the District works with staff, as well as the family and people in the community who have relationships that are important to a student and “develop a supportive plan for the child.” She said they develop a variety of creative interventions which could include counseling, tutoring, or assisting within the home or outside the school to support the child. The goal is “to keep them in school and make school a place where they want to be,” she said.

Dr. Murphy said staff continually works with students who demonstrate certain kinds of behavior “until a principal decides perhaps you have to do something more.” He said, “Suspension is a pretty serious decision that occurs only after a continuum of conversations and counseling sessions.”

“You need to look at this [the alternative-to-suspension program] as just another piece of the puzzle, and how we help our students who are having some issues,” said Mike Robey, assistant superintendent. “This is just one more way we can do that.”

“The first thing you always do is try to figure out, ‘Why did this happen? What caused it?’ It’s not always what happened on the playground. It may have been something that happened prior to that so you always want to try to understand the situation before you react to it; and I think teachers are always trying to do that.”

“We’re drawing on more specialized people, as we move into alternatives,” he continued. .. It’s not just to reduce a suspension from three days to two. It’s to reduce further incidents with that student and that family.”

Ms. Bartz said there is no nationwide research that shows suspensions work to change student behavior. Ms. Shultz added, though, “Every principal would say you have to manage your school environment.”

Board Reaction

Bonnie Lockhart, who has pushed the District to adopt an alternative to suspensions, said, “It really looks like you are well on your way to great alternatives to suspensions.”

Tracy Quattrocki said, “I think this is really a wonderful, terrific idea.”

Katie Bailey said, “I like this in terms of an alternative to suspensions … It’s much more holistic and talking about why the suspension is happening.” She suggested that, in addition to this new program, the Board talk about using “in-school suspensions” for students who are going to have to be suspended, rather than excluding them from the school buildings.


Moving Students with Severe Behavioral Disabilities

School District 65 is attempting to integrate middle-school students who were previously assigned to a self-contained classroom serving students with an emotional disturbance housed at Haven Middle School to their attendance-area schools. “”The identified students will be served in cross-categorical classrooms with the support of behavioral management specialists,”” said assistant superintendents Susan Schultz and Michael Robey in a June 12 memorandum.

“”The resources assigned to the middle school ED [emotionally disturbed] program will be converted to provide a behavioral management specialist for each middle school,”” they said in the memorandum. The behavioral management specialist “”will support students in the cross-categorical program as well as support the implementation of PBIS [Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports] and provide coaching for the implementation of Tier 2 and Tier 3 behavioral supports within the building.””

At the Oct. 7 School Board meeting, Ms. Schultz said, “”Going back to the end of last year, we had some concerns about how effectively we were in dealing with students who had severe behavioral disabilities. We had many of them in a self-contained program. And we weren’t being as successful as we thought we could be with those students.””

Working with staff administering the PBIS iniative and with consultants on the District’s inclusion initiative, they decided to convert the resources committed to the self-contained ED program and spread them out over the middle-schools, so students could remain in their home school, she said.

Under the new approach, the District has three “”behavioral intervention specialists,”” assigned to the District’s five middle schools, Ms. Schultz said. The behavioral intervention specialists are also working with Lincolnwood, Dewey and Lincoln elementary schools. “”Eventually, we’ll have this at all schools,”” she said.

When asked by Board member Andy Pigozzi if there was a point at which students with severe behavioral issues would not be able to function in the regular classroom, Ms. Shultz said, “”We’re developing a more specific plan for those students, to deal with their behavior.”” As a final step, she said, the District would consider whether it would be necessary to remove them from the school environment and place them in a different program in the District or an outside placement.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...