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According to a quarterly suspension report, the number of the days that District 65 students were suspended in the first three quarters of 2014-15 dropped to 180 from 451 in the same period in the prior year. During the same period, suspension days for black students dropped to 121 from 338.

The biggest declines were in the District’s elementary schools, where the percentage of suspensions declined by 86%.

“We really made some tremendous progress on changing the motif on how we actually pay attention to students who are having problems and how we embrace children and try to keep them in school as opposed to suspending them out of school,” said Superintendent Paul Goren. He added that the District is working with social workers, psychologists and principals to use an alternative to suspension as much as possible.

Board member Candance Chow said, “We’ve had a 64% reduction in suspensions for black students. These are changes that are going to impact lives of our kids. This is a really dramatic and significant move forward in our District that we’re going to see benefits from.”

Board member Richard Rykhus said a big reason for the decline in suspensions was the School Board’s persistence in urging that alternatives to suspensions be offered in more cases. The issue was a major topic of discussion at four Board and committee meetings since May 2013, most recently at a Board Policy Committee meeting on Oct. 1, 2014.

On Oct. 1, administrators laid out a comprehensive approach to address behavioral issues, including a focus on the “antecedents” to behavior, what constitutes a suspendable offense, when parents must be offered an alternative to suspension, and several other changes to the Board’s policy dealing with suspension procedures.

In commenting on the new approach, Dr. Goren said on Oct. 1, “This is not just tweaking around the corners. This is a substantial change in how we look at suspensions. … It’s also saying we will invest our time in building a culture for all, so it’s conducive to learning and conducive to problem solving.”