The number of suspensions issued at Evanston Township High School has declined by 60% between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 school years according to a discipline report given to the District 202 School Board at its Sept. 28 meeting. The total of both in-school and outside-of-school suspensions has steadily declined, with 1,503 suspensions issued in the 2009-10 school year and 595 issued during the 2014-15 school year.

The number of students who received suspensions has dropped by 55%, with 470 students receiving at least one suspension in the 2009-10 school year and 210 receiving at least one suspension in the 2014-15 school year.

“I am very ecstatic about this report,” said Vernon Clark, associate principal for educational services. “It’s a very good report.”

 The number of discipline actions has been relatively constant over time. The number of actions in 2014-15 (4,975) is 8% more than 2011-12 and 13% less than 2013-14.

The drops, Mr. Clark said, “are due to students doing better, and we’re being more consistent about enforcement. Students are rising to the occasion.”

The report divided 4,975 total disciplinary acts into incident categories. The largest grouping was “disruptive acts” of which there were 1.394 incidents reported. Federally tracked offenses were also given and include alcohol possession/use (50 incidences), dangerous weapons (0), drug distribution/possession/use/paraphernalia possession (137), serious bodily injury (1) and smoking (5 incidences) totaling 193 or 25% of the overall incidents.

“We came from a place of quite a lot of suspensions, and to see that number come down is very impressive and a result of a very conscious effort by the staff,” said Board Member Gretchen Livingston.

Ms. Livingston also said there is a discrepancy in how some offenses are treated, with a suspension issued for some offenses and an alternative-to-suspension for others. For the category “defiance of authority,” she said, 905 incidences were reported, 59 of which received inside suspensions, 26, outside suspensions, and 55, alternatives to suspensions.

“Where [the deans] are able to offer an alternative to a suspension, they will do so,” remarked Mr. Clark. “We try to utilize alternatives as well as in-school suspensions as much as possible. The ultimate goal here is to eliminate the need for suspensions; what are some other viable alternatives to satisfy the consequence while keeping students in class. But when students refuse to serve [suspensions], discipline has to become more aggressive.”

Alternatives to suspensions include peer jury, restorative justice, Students Under the Influence, Moran Center programming for aggressive and physical behavior, Brotherhood/Sisterhood Empowerment programs. “We are also looking at community service as an alternative,” said Mr. Clark.

“It’s also notable,” added Ms. Livingston, “that there are no expulsions. That is in sharp contrast to some schools. There is no replacement for that lost time.”

Board Member Mark Metz said, “I’d like to see more significant decreases to suspensions. Keep that trend going. We still have times when 595 kids weren’t in class. I’m not saying we can ignore some behaviors but the challenge is to continue to find ways to intervene.”

Mr. Metz added, “There are still a troubling number, 438, about 74 % [of disciplines] were for kids who identify as black/African American. That is about double the general population of the school. When we look at that through our equity lens, it poses a lot of questions. What can we do with that group to modify behaviors? Even more startling is the low-income students; almost all suspensions were issued to kids who are low-income. Again, what can we do as the adults to intervene and get to those kids? We also have to examine what are the standards, the expectations? Does that play a role? I don’t want to be negative, the progress is fist pumping.”

“We are spending this year looking for more ways to address discipline issues,” responded Mr. Clark. “Governor Rauner signed legislation that takes effect in 2016, which spells out what must happen before a suspension. We are ahead of the game and have always been ahead of the game.”

Board Member Monique Parsons said, “Any reduction is great. I am assuming there has been reduction with African American and low-income students. I know this is a process. I’m also excited by the creative efforts like the [Black Male and Black Female] Summits that we’re hosting that can help support some of the reductions along this continuum. I think we have to be that creative and patient in trying to decrease these numbers.”

Marcus Campbell, ETHS principal/assistant superintendent, said, “We’re looking at professional development with modules on social and emotional learning where teachers can work to create more positive environments in class. That goes along with the discipline. The Summits are about student behaviors, to address behaviors that further marginalize them.”

Board member Anne Sills asked, “Do we need more counselors? Behaviors are as a result of things that happen. I’m fairly sure students may have trouble coming forward with their feelings. Perhaps those kinds of experiences would prevent something from happening.”

“Those are areas we are looking at moving forward to help reduce suspensions even more,” said Mr. Clark. “We’ll continue to strive to do what we can.”

Dr. Eric Witherspoon, ETHS superintendent ended the discussion by saying, “I don’t want (anyone) to miss the more important narrative: 93% of the students in this school have never been suspended. Remember, 57% of students in this school are non-white. Even though we are concerned about the disproportionality of the students who have been suspended, don’t ever leave with the narrative that our non-white students are overwhelmingly making trouble in this school. Ninety-three percent of students have not been suspended, and most of them are non-white. I want to make sure we make that clear because so often there is another narrative out there, and it’s a very damaging one.”