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School District 65 is considering revisions to its Student Discipline Policy that would address student behavior in a holistic manner. An overall goal of the policy is “to teach students to behave in ways that contribute to academic achievement and school success as well as support a school environment where students and staff are responsible and respectful.”

A draft of the revised policy, which contains a statement of values and expectations, six key elements of a framework, a list of responsibilities of students, families, schools and the District, six basic rules of conduct, and consequences for infractions was discussed by the School Board’s Policy Committee on Oct. 15.

The revised draft was prepared against a backdrop that a “disproportionate number of students of color are being impacted by the current Student Discipline policy,” says a memorandum prepared by Jessica Plaza, Orrington Principal; Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools; Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services; and Donna Cross, MTSS Coordinator.

Mr. Khelghati said the proposed policy provides an opportunity to bring together a lot of the work and visioning that has been taking place in the District in the past few years about restorative practices, strengthening relationships in the schools, providing social and emotional learning and a vision for discipline.

“This policy is very important to the work and to the vision of where we need to go,” said Mr. Khelghati. “This will help us to be much more intentional about building strong relationships that are productive in improving our student outcomes and also address the continued disproportionality of suspension rates. It builds a vision for our community and our schools versus a ‘don’t do this’ as a policy.”

Ms. Bartz said, “All of these pieces are coming together. This is really the vision for how we see discipline and behavior going forward in the District.”

In preparing the revised policy, District administrators held several focus groups with about 35 parents, community members and staff to gather input, and also gathered input from about 35 fifth- through seventh-graders.

Administrators have scheduled three additional community forums to gain additional feedback about the proposed revisions.  They also plan to continue gathering input from the District Educators Council, the teachers’ union, and to present a revised draft to the School Board in January.

The Draft Policy’s Vision Going Forward 

The draft policy states that effective discipline should be part of a holistic effort that teaches students to behave in ways that contribute to academic achievement and school success and guides them to take responsibility for their actions; that creates a healthy school culture that welcomes students, families, and community members and celebrates students’ backgrounds, languages, and achievements; and that provides students with comprehensive social, emotional and academic development.

“D65 is committed to teaching all students and to assuring that no student’s disruptive and/or dangerous behavior interferes with the learning of others,” says the draft policy. “This is best accomplished by preventing misbehavior before it occurs and using effective interventions after it occurs.”

The policy statement lists eight values and expectations, which it says “will be developed into a framework with six key elements.” The elements are: 

• “Quality Instruction” – delivered in a standards based-learning environment, which provides differentiated instruction and supports for all learners, including social and emotional learning instruction.

• “Caring school climates that foster positive relationships and teaching expectations” – Create safe learning environments and teach students the behaviors that are expected. “Schools must build on student strengths, including the strength that students bring from their cultures. Schools need to be cognizant of the many issues that may impact a student’s behavior, that include traumatic life experiences, and respond to students through teaching emotional self-regulatory skills and help staff learn and practice trauma-informed instructional strategies.”

• “Use Data for Problem Solving” – School and staff are expected to use data to identify problems and successes, and to use that data in making decisions and respond to problems earlier.

• “Continuum of Recommended Interventions for Misbehavior” – “Misbehavior ranges from very minor to very serious infractions. … Therefore, schools must use a wide repertoire of responses to misbehavior to help students learn appropriate behavior, avoid repetition of similar incidents by the student involved or others, and maintain a safe learning environment.”

• “Build Cultural Competence and Address Racism” – “Schools and staff must build cultural competence.” Staff  are being trained “to integrate culturally responsive practices” and are  “examining and learning to question the impact of their actions on African American male, LatinX students and other groups that are over-represented among those students who are suspended. D65 expects that staff will use strategies to increase positive behavior for all students and to employ strategies that are known to be effective with students from African American, LatinX and other cultural communities.”

• “Focus on developing a restorative approach to all incidents” – “Restorative Practices (RP) are designed to repair harm done to individuals and the community cooperatively. These practices integrate a problem-solving approach to school discipline that focuses on resolution and reconciliation and has the potential to confront racial disparities in school discipline.”  

The draft policy sets out 13 responsibilities of students, 10 for families, 24 for schools, and 10 for the District.

A student’s responsibilities include: “take responsibility for their behavior and hold themselves to high standards; work to achieve at high levels; come to school every day, on time, ready to learn; follow school and classroom expectations and rules; and participate as members of the learning community.”

The family’s responsibilities include: “participate in and support school activities; teach their child to be respectful of others and reinforce school expectations; and model positive, respectful and appropriate school behavior.” 

Each School’s responsibilities include: use a school-wide behavior plan with input from teachers, administrators, other staff, students and families based on the work by each School Climate Team; review outcomes and modify plans, with particular attention to whether the school is reducing the disproportionate suspension of African American students, LatinX students, and students with special needs.”

The District’s responsibilities include: “gain feedback regarding practices and policies to monitor effectiveness and the impact of the policy as it relates to reducing the disproportionality of documented behavioral infractions of African American students, LatinX students, and students with special needs; provide schools with the necessary resources, professional learning and support to implement the policy.”

The Rules of Conduct

The proposed policy contains six “specific rules consistent with basic expectations for safety, learning, respect and kindness and associated roles and responsibilities,” which are applicable at all schools.” They are: 

“1. Students and staff are expected to dress in a manner appropriately.

2. Students may not possess or use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs on school grounds or at school events.

3. Students may not carry electronic communication devices at school. These include, but are not limited to, pagers and cell phones.

4. No firearms or weapons are allowed on school grounds.

5. No fighting, threats or other forms of violence or other behavior that will disrupt the safety and learning of others is allowed.

6. Students are expected to comply with additional specific rules established by their school.”

 The policy says, “Each school community has the right to establish additional rules necessary to support their school community and eliminate disruptive behavior.”

This would replace the current policy that lists 21 types of prohibited conduct.

Consequences

The policy gives school principals wide latitude to determine the interventions and consequences to address behavioral issues. “The principal retains the right to take appropriate action to ensure the safety of the school, its students and staff and to provide interventions and consequences that will help misbehaving students learn appropriate behavior. It is the principal’s responsibility to seek other options and to use suspension judiciously in order to maximize the amount of time students are safely and productively in class. 

Suspending a student must be done in accordance with the procedures provided in Board Policy 7:200, which the Board modified in December 2010 and October 2014. The procedures encourage that alternatives to suspension be used in lieu of a suspension, and require that any suspension be approved by the Superintendent or his designee. Mr. Khelghati said the procedures will be reviewed again next spring.

Board Discussion

Board member Candance Chow noted that the current policy lists  many specific types of conduct that are prohibited, and the new policy is “much more general and open.” She said this raised a concern because the types of conduct leading to a disproportionality of disciplinary action are “disrespectful behavior” and “threatening behavior” where “there’s such gray areas. What are they, and how does one decide what they are?” she said. “If we’re leaving much of that to the discretion of the school team, how can we assure equity and fairness?”

She suggested that administrators examine the types of conduct that have led to the most disproportionate treatment in the past and define the conduct.

Ms. Bartz said that disrespectful conduct is now being addressed in peace circles and through restorative conferencing and not through suspensions. She agreed, though, that “there needs to be some specificity.” Ms. Bartz added, “We’re hoping that interventions will preempt behavior issues.”

Mr. Khelghatti similarly said, “This evolved from, ‘If you do this, here is your punishment,’ to ‘if you do this, here’s some interventions that the school can draw on.’” He said in the past disrespectful conduct could lead to a suspension, but “that’s no longer going to be the practice.”

When Oliver Ruff, a member of OPAL’s Board, pressed for a date on when disrespectful conduct would be defined, Mr. Khelghatti said it would be defined in the Code of Conduct next spring or summer.

Ms. Chow said she would like to include language in the policy about the Board’s commitment to students with a disability.

Policy Committee Chair Sergio Hernandez suggested that the District disaggregate data for students with an emotional disability. Board Vice-President Anya Tanyavutti suggested that data be disaggregated by both race and disability. For example, report data for Black student who have a disability.

Ms. Tanyavutti also suggested, if the goal is to make sure that discipline is a learning opportunity and a relationship learning opportunity, rather than being punitive, the values statement should reflect that.

Rebeca Mendoza suggested that the District’s commitment to safety and providing a supportive environment should be expressly included in the goal statement.

Administrators said those concepts were embedded in the draft policy but agreed it would be helpful to include them.

It is anticipated that a revised Policy Statement will be presented to the Board in January.