On May 16, the Policy Committee of the District 65 School Board picked up on a wide-ranging discussion on discipline and suspensions that School Board members had at their April 28 meeting. At the earlier meeting, Board members suggested that the Board revise its policies to require that the alternative-to-suspension program be offered to all students who qualified for the program; that the Board start with the premise that there would be no out-of-school suspensions, and then work backwards to see what types of offenses would be an exception; that the Board establish a protocol that would require providing “wrap-around” services to students who needed such services; and that the Board develop new alternatives to suspension that did not require parental participation.

At the Policy Committee meeting, Mary Brown, assistant superintendent of business services, reported that Barb Hiller, chief administrative officer, suggested putting together a committee of stakeholders from within and without the District, including experts, to come up with a plan that is best for the students.

Board member Candance Chow said the Board’s policies currently outline what constitutes misconduct, but they do not contain a policy about discipline. “We haven’t articulated what our intent is,” said Ms. Chow. “I think we need to articulate our intent or goal,” and then see if the policy is consistent with the goal.

Board member Richard Rykhus agreed, adding that he thought the Board needed to look at the purpose of suspensions and the length of time of suspensions. He said he liked the idea of having a broader stakeholder group make a recommendation.

Joyce Bartz, director of special services, outlined some of the things the District was doing in addition to the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, out-of-school suspensions and the alternative-to-suspension program to promote discipline.

She said the District was using a program called “Second Step,” which focuses on social and emotional learning, that three or four schools were using “Classroom Circles” and that some were using restorative justice. She said the Moran Center was piloting a program called “Voices, Ideas and Perspectives” (VIP) at Haven Middle School. In addition, the District was setting up wrap-plans for some students in partnership with several organizations in the community.

Kathy Lyons, executive director of the Moran Center, and Mikki Guerra, social work program coordinator at the Moran Center, outlined the VIP program that the center is piloting at Haven. The program runs two hours a day, two days a week, for several weeks. The goal is to teach students how to handle emotions, handle conflicts and make healthy choices.

The sessions are group sessions, and involve “a lot of peer collaboration,” said Ms. Guerra. “A lot depends on peer questions and peer input. They’ll hear the peers more,” she added.

The Moran Center started a similar program at ETHS several years ago, and it is now used as an alternative to suspension at ETHS. This year the Moran Center is providing five to six sessions at ETHS, with five to six kids participating in each session. Each session runs eight hours, meeting two times a week for four weeks.

Ms. Chow suggested that the Policy Committee consider making the VIP program and restorative justice additional alternatives to suspension at District 65.

Board President Tracy Quattrocki suggested that the Board change its policy quickly to nail down that an alternative to suspension would be offered to all students who qualified. Policy Committee Chair Suni Kartha suggested that the Board obtain additional input from principals before doing so.

The Committee accepted the suggestion made by Ms. Hiller to form a task force to propose changes to the Board’s policies on discipline and suspension. Several Board members said they wanted the task force to gather input from parents whose children had been suspended or who had gone through the alternative to suspension program. Mr. Rykhus expressed the sentiment of the Committee that there was a sense of urgency in getting this done, hopefully before the start of the next school year.

At the School Board’s meeting on May 19, Ms. Kartha said that she and Ms. Chow had put together a memorandum synthesizing the comments made at the May 16 Finance Committee meeting and the earlier April 28 Board meeting to help guide the task force and to let them know “what outcomes we’re looking for.”

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...