The District 202 School Board heard two year-end reports on discipline and school climate at its June 24 meeting, one on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) and the other on student discipline.

PBIS is a research-driven approach to student behavior that is endorsed by the Illinois State Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education. Evanston Township High School formed a PBIS Committee in 2010 to meet federal mandates aimed at preventing bullying and other serious behaviors.

The committee, now with 45 members, has a student advisory council as well as subcommittees. At the heart of PBIS are the 3 Rs at ETHS: “respect for self, respect for others and respect for community.” Among the initiatives this year were an all-school picnic (“Work Hard, Play Hard”), a school-wide conversation (“I Commit”) and a staff appreciation week.

Vernon Clark, Associate Principal for Educational Services and Carrie Levy, senior research associate, presented an analysis of suspensions by incident category and race for the 2012-13 school year. The data showed that for the entire year 351 students, or 11 percent of the student body, served a total of 971 suspensions.  By race, 231 black or African American students, 52 Hispanic or Latino students, 53 white students, 1 American Indian or Alaska native student, 2 Asian students and 12 students of “two or more races” received suspensions. 

There was a reduction in the total number of suspensions from the prior year, from 1,097 to 971, but an increase in the number of students suspended, from 323 to 351.

The data also showed a reduction in the “number of suspensions assigned for incidents relating to alcohol, cheating, disorderly behavior, harassment/bullying, inappropriate behavior, theft/robbery, unauthorized access/vandalism and unauthorized presence.

Suspensions in other categories, however, increased: drugs, fighting, tardy/detention and “dangerous weapons-other” (an ETHS category for weapons not defined under federal guidelines).

Board member Jonathan Baum asked that in-school suspensions be separated from out-of-school suspensions.

“I think it would be interesting to know how many hours of instruction are lost,” said Board member Mark Metz.

“The flip side is that we have to look at those behaviors [that result in suspensions] – if they are disrupting the education of the other 25 students [in the class]. It’s complicated,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

“We try to use ‘extended detentions’ – on Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings,” said Mr. Clark. “The deans are trying to find other methods, alternatives to suspensions, programs to which kids can be assigned in order to minimize time spent out of class.” 

ETHS already offers several alternatives to suspension, which address a range of behaviors: Peer Jury, Restorative Justice, Students Under the Influence (SUI), a violence intervention program (VIP) from the Moran Center, the Brotherhood Empowerment Program (BEP) and the Sisterhood Empowerment Program (SEP).

According to information provided by Mr. Clark and Ms. Levy, the alternative-to-suspension programs target the following students and behaviors:

• Peer Jury provides a “positive outlet in which students can resolve school-related conflicts with the assistance of their peers and avoid a possible suspension.” Restorative Justice aims at repairing the “harm caused or revealed by inappropriate behavior.” This may involve the police and criminal charges.

• The SUI program offers substance-abuse education for students “who have been suspended for use or possession of a controlled substance.” The program addresses drug use, addiction and other related matters and encourages students and their families to seek support.

• The Moran Center’s VIP targets students who have exhibited aggressive behavior and provides “Evanston youth and their families with the tools to refrain from engaging in potentially delinquent behavior.”

• Participants in BEP, which is designed to address the needs of all male students, “engage in a holistic approach to deal with issues which hinder their success.” The program targets “students involved in egregious acts that may result in suspension(s).”

• SEP, designed to address the needs of female students, takes a “holistic approach to deal with issues and facilitate academic and social-emotional success.” It focuses on self-esteem, peer relationships, personal strengths and decision- making” to help female students resolve conflicts with their peers.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...