On Nov. 12, Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, and Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, presented the Annual Discipline Report to the District 65 School Board, and used that as background to discuss some ways in which the District is attempting to get at the root of some behavioral issues in the schools. 

“There is still a gross overrepresentation of our Black students,” in receiving out-of-school suspensions and Office Disciple Referrals, said Mr. Khelghati. “This should not be the case. This is something we’re concerned about.”

Mr. Khelghati said he attended focus groups for parents in the prior week. Eight parents attended one meeting and five the other. “People are hurting,” he said. “There’s a lot of pain for some of our families who are experiencing the way in which our disciplinary practices, particularly Office Discipline Referrals, are meted out. We see that in our data, it can be a little flat, but to families who are really experiencing that pain – it was very important for us to see, and they gave us some important feedback.”

 Ms. Bartz said one of the things they are looking at “is what are the interventions that we are providing and are they across the District the right interventions, and how do we adjust them so we can provide additional supports earlier through a more proactive method of supporting” students, said Ms. Bartz.

“All the work related to restorative practices, the relationship building – that’s all the keys to this work,” she said.

Out-of-School Suspensions

The data show the total number of out-of-school suspensions has increased from 107 in 2015 to 142 in 2018. Compared to last year, though, there were five fewer out-of-school suspensions. 

The average number of days suspended decreased from 2.2 days per suspension in 2015 to 1.7 days in 2018.

There is still a significant disparity in the number of out-of-school suspensions by race/ethnicity. In 2018, there were 91 suspensions of Black students, compared to 22 for Latinx students, 15 for multi-racial students and 14 for White students. The chart below shows the trends.

Ms. Bartz said, “If a student is being suspended more than a couple of times, the school is on top of that, and looking at that as a concern and figuring out whether there’s a better method of planning for that child and providing services or changing around supports or an IEP [Individualized Education Program] or other things that we may want to do.”

“The biggest challenge that both our policy is lifting and that the Illinois policy lifts in this regard is that we’re not using discipline or suspension anymore as a punishment,” said Mr. Khelghati. “Suspension really needs to be the result of a threat assessment and a concern for safety, not a punishment for a child.” He said exclusionary practices do not work, and lead to “a school-to-prison pipeline.”

Alternative to Suspensions

In October 2009, the School Board approved a plan to provide an alternative to suspending a student for most behavioral issues. Under the plan, the District offered counseling services to the student and his or her parents in an  attempt to keep the student in school and to address the underlying causes of the behavioral issues.

In the 2008-2009 school year, there were a total of 456 incidents that led to out-of-school suspensions (ATS). Four years later, in 2012-13 there were 239 out-of-school suspensions.  At the Board’s request, the ATS program was expanded at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year to include students who had committed even the most serious offenses. Last year, 2017-2018, the number of out-of-school suspensions was 142.

Mr. Bartz said an alternative to suspensions should be offered to families for every suspension incident, but she added some families do not agree to participate in the counseling. Last year the District used the ATS program to provide counseling services to 71 families. The counseling is provided by District 65 social workers and psychologists who have experience addressing student behavior, and is available in the evenings.

“This is an important tool that our School District has used for a while,” said Mr. Khelghati. “We’ve just continued to lift it in importance and basically offering counseling sessions in place of our out-of-school suspensions.”

Board President Suni Kartha asked if there was something else that could be offered to students that was not dependent on family participation. Ms. Bartz said restorative practices are provided, but acknowledged that this was not in lieu of a suspension.

Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs)

The positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system focuses on the creation and maintenance of a school climate that is most conducive to student achievement, said Mr. Khelghati. As part of the PBIS framework, school-based teams create, implement and evaluate student support systems that address academic and behavioral issues at the schools. 

The Office Discipline Referral (ODR) is used to formalize this process when negative behaviors are persistent or become major issues, Mr. Khelghati said. The District uses the ODRs to develop supports and interventions for students.

The data show that 12% of all students had one or more ODRs for a major incident in 2018, up 1% from 2012. The data show that significantly higher percentages of Black students, low-income students and students with an IEP have one or more ODRs than other students.

For example, 26% of Black students had an ODR in 2018, compared to 8% of White students.

The chart below shows the percentage of students in each subgroup that had one or more ODRs for major incidents.

Students with IEPs

Students with an IEP have a disproportionate number of out-of-school suspensions and ODRs:

• In 2018, 45% of all suspensions were of students who had an IEP, and

• 18% of all students who had an IEP had one or more ODRs for a major incident.

Mr. Khelghati pointed out, “There’s an overrepresentation of Black students who have IEPs,” so the manner in which students with an IEP are treated has a major impact on Black students.

Board member Candance Chow asked, “How do you know and how do we know there isn’t a connection between the disability and the behavior and that transfers into an exclusionary kind of punishment?”

Ms. Bartz said, “Students with IEPs can get suspended and get Office Discipline Referrals. Where we want to be very careful is how much they have been excluded from school or from an opportunity, and that protection is provided to them. If they’re suspended over a certain amount of time, it would trigger a meeting where we would look at that. … It should trigger a discussion of what’s going on with the child, what services are we providing, are we providing support that we need to do. So that’s an important piece.”

Ms. Bartz added, “Students who have IEPs also have intervention plans. What we want to make sure is when a student has a difficulty, that is triggering a look at the behavior intervention plans to provide support that students may need when they are struggling. We are trying to highlight that piece.”

Likewise, Ms. Bartz said, if a student is referred for an ODR, it is an opportunity to make sure that “we’re providing the proper supports.”

Ms. Kartha said she would like to see the suspension data for IEP students broken down by race and the type of disability, such as whether the students had an emotional behavioral disability. Several other Board members joined in this request.

Board member Sergio Hernandez suggested the District do home visits for students who have a pattern of behavioral issues or who are scoring below the 25th or 40th percentile.


The three main types of conduct that led to a suspension in 2018 were “disrespectful, aggressive, or threatening behavior” (49 incidents), physical violence (37 incidents), disrespect of school authority (17 incidents) and theft/vandalism (13 incidents). These accounted for 82% all suspensions.

Mr. Khelghati said he looked at the incidents where a student was suspended or given an ODR for disrespect of school authority. He said a student was not cited with disrespect for an “isolated” incident. He said the incidents were generally complex situations linked to other types of behavioral issues, including in some instances violence. He said, though, “We need to have a better definition of disrespect.”

Board member Rebeca Mendoza said there are times “we as adults can be disrespectful to kids and not respect their coming of age and treating them in a certain manner that minimizes their ability to stand up for themselves.

“I hope we really talk about the meaning of disrespect and what that means not only to educators but what that also means to our students.” 

What about the Adults?

Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti asked if students were being put back in situations where the relationship with the adult has not been repaired.

Ms. Bartz said, “In terms of the work with adults where a situation may have happened in the school, that was the whole concept of implementing the restorative practices facilitators that we have this year working at Chute, Haven, Nichols and King Arts.” Those are the schools where the District decided to focus its work this year on restoring and developing relationships through sharing circles, responsive circles, restorative conferencing, etc. “One aspect of that might be if a student had a problem for instance with a teacher, the facilitator would do a restorative conference where there’s an opportunity to repair the harm that may have happened within that relationship or in a situation,” said Ms. Bartz.

Ms. Tanyavutti said, “That sounds wonderful. I would worry if there’s undue burden put on the child to repair. Sometimes adults need to repair with children also.”

“Absolutely,” said Ms. Bartz

“Adults need to be honest when they felt hurt or triggered and in some ways contributed to the breakdown,” continued Ms. Tanyavutti. “And I think that’s important for children’s families to hear because to be frank, I think that some of our children and families feel like they’re being racially profiled in our schools and that is painful and contributes to how safe our learning environment is, and it also contributes to – if  we’re struggling with folks who hold racist beliefs, we have some systemic issues that are confirming some of those racist beliefs for children and adults. We need to look at how we contribute to that and how we break it down.”

 “We agree with you,” said Ms. Bartz. “This is something we started this fall. This is very new with where we are, specifically at the middle schools.”

 “We have prioritized addressing racism as part of our policy statement around discipline because we recognize the role of implicit bias,” said Mr. Khelghati.

He added that last year a number of parents from Lincolnwood Elementary School spoke about the need to remove kids from school because their children were hurting as victims. “How we support our victims is an important part of our policy as well. Those who are harmed and then those who are harming and how do we balance them. To say it’s complex is really underrating it.”

Mr. Khelghati invited feedback with the new policy being lifted regarding discipline. “We want to look at the framework we need to adopt going forward. The real focus of a shared policy that encompasses a lot of how we approach these things is going to be paramount,” adding “We must build this in a way that builds the capacity of everybody.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...