At a time when the federal and state governments are looking at measures to change the way students are disciplined, Evanston Township High School, too is reviewing how it handles students who violate school policy.

The annual report on discipline was presented to the District 202 Board of Education at their June 2 meeting. It showed that changes in how the school disciplines students has lead to a steady decline in the number of suspensions issued.

 “Over the last several years, ETHS’s administration has changed the way it addresses issues of student behavior. It has developed clear definitions of discipline incidents, administered disciplinary action more consistently, used new and varied disciplinary actions, and reduced the number of student suspensions,” the introductory paragraph to the report reads.

During this school year, though May 23, there were 5,525 disciplinary actions taken by school personnel. Eighty-one percent of those actions are labeled “other actions” (detention, referral to the Academic Intervention Team, and student conferences with parents, teachers, deans and/or social workers), 14% were suspensions (inside and outside of school) and 5% were alternative suspensions (where the student attends class as normal and participates in supports outside of class time). Most discipline incidents were resolved before a suspension action was required states the report.

“The goal is to keep students in class,” said Vernon Clark, Associate Principal for Educational Services.

Since the 2009-2010 school year, the number of suspensions issued has decreased by 48%. This figure includes both in-school and out-of-school suspensions.

“The majority of our students don’t have discipline issues,” said Mr. Clark, pointing out that 91 percent of the students have not been suspended, up from 88 percent last year. A small percentage, only five percent, of ETHS students struggle with chronic discipline issues, receiving more than one suspension, continued Mr. Clark.

“Those who say ETHS students are bad don’t know what they are talking about,” said Mr. Clark.

School Board President Gretchen Livingston pointed out that discipline in schools nationwide has been in the spotlight but that ETHS should not be put in the same category as many of the schools put up as examples. “The issue of discipline has gotten a lot of press attention in the last year or so. President Obama has taken this on as an issue all with good reason.

“The press and President Obama have highlighted schools where the problem is entirely different than what we have here.

“Reading some of these stories and reading this report might think we are like everyone else.  We are not. Our numbers are significantly lower than some of the real horrific cases highlighted in the press.  We hardly ever expel and our suspension rate is very low. Clearly we have lots more we can still do.  Racial disparities still exists around some offenses, but we are making end roads.”

In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice issued guidelines to assist public elementary and secondary schools to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.  On a state level, two bills about school discipline were introduced in the General Assembly.

The annual ETHS discipline report provided a breakdown of suspensions issued by race. Of the 782 suspensions issued this school year, 72% were issued to black students, 18% to Hispanic/Latino students, 6.3 percent to white students, and 3.6% to students of two or more races. No suspensions were issued to American Indian, Alaska Native or Asian students.

The report did not indicate, however, whether these figures represented a constant, increasing or decreasing racial disparity. Board member Jonathan Baum asked that in the future, the report include that analysis.

Across the student population, fighting and defiance of authority were the most common reasons for students to be suspended. When asked if there are any trends to be concerned about, Mr. Clark stated that harassing and bullying are the “biggest challenge” due to texting and social media.

The report credits newer school programs instituted as alternatives to suspension with much of the decline in the number of suspensions issued. Peer juries, referrals to substance abuse and special education programs, gender specific empowerment programs and violence prevention programs are in place to help students deal with conflicts before they escalate.

“We want to become a suspension free school,” said Mr. Clark. That’s a lofty but attainable goal.”

The annual discipline report can be found on the ETHS website at embedded in Monday night’s meeting agenda.