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Although a bill signed into law last August by Governor Bruce Rauner “significantly changes disciplinary strategies available to school districts,” Assistant Superintendent of District 65 Schools John Price says the District’s suspension policies were already headed in the direction Gov. Rauner mandated.

District 65 “is well-positioned to implement these changes because of work already underway intended to reduce suspensions and provide school leaders with other disciplinary options,” Mr. Price wrote in a memo prepared for the Jan. 11 School Board Policy Committee meeting.

Gov. Rauner’s changes are aimed at zero-tolerance and policies or rules that trigger automatic suspensions, Mr. Price said. Instead, school districts must put into place by Sept. 15 of this year policies that consider suspensions or expulsions on a case-by-case basis.

With programs such as PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports) and ATS (alternatives to suspension) already in place at District 65, Mr. Price said, “we’ve certainly been moving in the spirit of this law. I really just want to emphasize that we don’t have a zero-tolerance policy.” He said the District will have to make changes in some areas to comply with the new law: rewriting the student handbook to reflect that a student may be suspended for only three days; ensuring that the language in the new policy does not indicate that there is zero tolerance or that suspensions are automatic in certain circumstances; crafting a memorandum of understanding between District 65 and the Skokie and Evanston Police Departments; and coming up with a satisfactory definition of “substantial disruption,” the term for an offense that permits a district to suspend a student.

“Some things are left up to the discretion of school principals,” Mr. Price said. “Suspensions of three days or less may only be used in circumstances when the student’s ‘continuing presence in the school would pose a threat to school safety’ (section b-15) or there is the potential for a serious disruption to the school,” his memo said.

Under the new law school officials must implement policies that allow students to make up work missed during a suspension and must provide supports to students who are suspended for more than four days, Mr. Price’s memo said. The new law also prohibits the use of fines as a form of discipline.

Mr. Price’s memo also said District administrators will need to work “with school principals to formalize available pre-suspension interventions used in schools and revise protocols for student suspension in compliance with the new law. This may need to include a means of tracking interventions provided to students prior to removal.” District administrators will also collaborate with representatives of the teachers’ union (DEC, the District Educators Council) “to plan needed professional learning for teachers, and to communicate the impacts of the new law” and will work “with members of the Board’s Policy Committee, review applicable Board policies to ensure that policies are updated to comply with the new law, and make recommendations for changes prior to the September 15th deadline,” Mr. Price’s memo said.

Board member Omar Brown asked whether these new policies would have an effect on suspensions at the District.

“My gut feeling is that principals do need permission from the superintendent to suspend a student more than three days. I don’t think this will have an aggregate effect on suspensions,” Mr. Price said.