Administrators at Evanston Township High School credit a change in philosophy for a decrease in disciplinary incidents and suspensions. A report presented at the Oct. 9 meeting of the District 202 School Board shows the number of disciplinary actions decreased 35% (7,189 to 4,696) between the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 school years and the number of suspensions decreased 28% (689 to 497). When comparing the numbers to the 2013-14 school year, disciplinary actions are down 17%, and suspensions are down 38%.
A new philosophy statement was crafted in 2015, which states discipline at the school:
• ensures the right of all students to learn in a safe environment;
• primarily uses consistent, school-wide prevention and intervention, focusing on instruction and restorative practices;
• promotes a shared responsibility throughout the school for problem solving by all students and staff;
• acknowledges and honors individual students’ identities and developmental needs;
• seeks to model, teach, and reinforce students’ and adults’ social-emotional skills (i.e., self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making); and,
• involves a cooperative and collaborative effort among students, parents/guardians, and staff.
“This new philosophy represents a shift from reactive approaches to student behavior to a preventative molding/modeling approach of teaching and growing students according to the values of ETHS,” said Keith Robinson, Associate Principal of Educational Services, in his report to the Board.
Focus on Black Males
Another shift is the intentional school-wide focus on the disproportionality of Black males being disciplined. The 2017-18 data shows 755 unique students make up the 4,696 total disciplinary actions. Of those, 36% were Black/African American (354), 25% were Hispanic/Latino (165) and 12% were White (187).
Discipline incidents for Black males are decreasing, however. The total number of discipline incidents for Black or African American male students decreased by 30% (942 to 657) between 2015-16 and 2017-18. The greatest decrease in incidents involving Black males was in the categories of Tardy/Detention, Harassment/Bullying, Disruptive Acts, and Defiance of Authority.
There was an increase in incidents reported for Theft/Stolen Property (10 incidents in 2015 to 36 in 2018) and Drug Offenses (16 to 33 for drugs; 0 to 7 for alcohol). Theft is up due in part to awareness said Dr. Robinson. Students are taking advantage of new processes that allow them to register belongings with the school and report alleged theft.
The report did not provide a specific incident breakdown for other racial/ethnic categories, but did indicate that incidences of “drug offenses” for the entire student body actually decreased last year from 371 in 2016-17 to 340 in 2017-18.
Fewer Suspensions Equals More Days in Class
When students are disciplined by a suspension, they lose instructional time in the classroom. The use of “alternatives to suspension” has decreased the number of days lost.
Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the total number of days students spent out of the classroom decreased by 60% (1,933 to 781). The number of days for the Alternative Learning Center (in-school suspension) decreased by 56% and outside suspension decreased by 64%.
Alternatives include Restorative Justice and Peer Conference which help students work through and repair conflicts with each other. The Students Under the Influence (SUI) and Student Empowerment Program (SEP) provide education and address personal issues.
Dr. Robinson stressed with the Board at the beginning of his report that, “the work is ongoing.” In November, he said the Discipline Subcommittee will meet to review the incident categorizes Disruptive Acts and Defiance of Authority, the two most reported discipline categories for Black males. Kingian Nonviolence Training will continue for staff and students. Currently about 35 students have received the training. Data collected for the discipline report will be used to “target areas of focus” that will help “create more robust Alternative to Suspension options.”
Reducing Discrimination. “This is really good news here,” said Jonathan Baum in pointing out what he said was for the first time a significant reduction in disciplinary actions, not just a reduction in suspensions, which he said, “I take to mean our students are behaving better.” He also praised administrators for continuing work to clarify discipline categories. “We know vague infractions are an invitation for discrimination.” By creating a clearer definition on discipline, ETHS can not only target interventions, but reduce discrimination. “I think you will see significant reductions in the racial disparities,” he said.
Drug Use. Jude Laude questioned the data about drug offenses, that Black males have the highest discipline rate yet there is “no data saying their use is higher than Whites.” Marcus Campbell, Assistant Superintendent/Principal, said they are, “still unpacking” the fact that White students, “reported more use, yet color has more impact” on discipline.
Tardies. Pat Maunsell asked about the tardy numbers. “The tardy numbers still seem a little uneven – significantly higher numbers of African-American and Latino kids versus white kids.” One chart in the report tracked suspensions by disciplinary offense by racial/ethnic categories. Black/African American students accounted for 72 of the 105 suspensions given for tardies last year, while there were 30 reported for Hispanic/Latino students, and zero for Whites, Asians, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
“There’s still a story to tell here. You know our kids are still late but we’re continuing to try to figure that story out,” said Dr. Robinson.
Superintendent Eric Witherspoon added that in recent years, safety staff began carrying handheld computers to issue a pass for late students and record tardies, which has created, “a lot more consistency in reporting tardies than in previous years when it when it depended on the classroom teacher.” He added, “While there are a number of students who are still tardy, within two minutes after the bell our halls are clear so we’ve come a long way.”
It’s Equity Work: “This all ties to our equity work; it’s at the heart of what we do,” said Board President Pat Savage Williams. “We’ve changed the culture.”
The entire discipline report can be found on the ETHS website with the Oct. 9 School Board meeting packet.