Most members of the District 202 School Board said they were pleased with the report on student discipline and suspension presented at their Oct. 8 meeting. One member, though, said he was still “stunned” at the disproportion of suspensions meted out to black males.
The report, prepared by Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell, Assistant Principal for Educational Services Keith Robinson, and Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment Carrie Levy, tracked the results of the school’s philosophy toward discipline.
Philosophy of Student Discipline at ETHS
Four years ago, following the mandates of Illinois Senate Bill 100 to minimize such exclusionary practices as suspension and expulsion and increase alternatives to suspension, Evanston Township High School shifted from a “reactive” policy to a preventive one, using prevention and intervention strategies that focus on instruction and restorative practices, the report said.
In the fall of 2017, ETHS expanded the parameters of the student-school contracts for social probation, allowing students to meet with their dean to come up with terms for a reduction to their social probation, Dr. Robinson said.
“We want to get students participating in high school events,” he added.
In addition to changing the dress code, Dr. Robinson said, eliminating or narrowing “truly subjective” categories such as “disruptive acts” and “defiance of authority” helps reduce suspensions. Definitions of these two categories are still being refined, he said.
Discipline Actions 2018-19
In 2018-19, students spent a total of 866 days outside the classroom, according to the report. Dr. Robinson said 483 of those days were spent in alternative classrooms.
Administrators continue to focus on the disproportionate disciplinary actions to black males. In 2018-19, 112, or 26% of the 435 black students enrolled at ETHS received an aggregate of 524 disciplinary actions, according to the report. This represents a decrease in both absolute numbers and percentages from 2015-16, when 174, or 38%, of black males received a disciplinary action.
In the 2018-19 school year, 730 students received a total of 4,917 discipline actions; 520, or 11%, of these actions were suspensions. The suspension rate for black students last year was 15%; for Latinx students it was 8%; and for white students it was 3%.
While the overall suspension rate for students was 7% in each of the past two years, the number of students who received one or more suspensions increased by 3%, from 256 to 264.
From 2017-18 to 2018-19, the number of discipline actions and the number of suspensions each increased by 5%.
The greatest increases in discipline actions were in “drug offenses” and “unauthorized presence,” and the largest category of drug offenses is the use of e-cigarettes, said Dr. Robinson.
The “unauthorized presence” category, he said, refers to “those students who are not where they are supposed to be during class time,” Dr. Robinson said. He said the safety staff have received training in restorative practices as well.
Board member Gretchen Livingston said she appreciated the breakdown by student population – that’s the number that tells the story.” She said in particular in the “downward moves, I think we are doing good work. … I’ve been here since the beginning – about 10 years ago. It’s really rewarding to see that pay off over time.”
Board Vice President Monique Parsons said, “You are being very intentional so that whatever we do sticks.”
Board President Pat Savage-Williams asked, “What are the next steps?”
Dr. Robinson said, “We can create more alternative-to-suspension options and rethink the PBIS [Positive Behavior Intervention and Support] approach to better support the culture and climate of the school.”
Dr. Robinson said, “We have invited community partners to talk about restorative justice,” and added, “Restorative justice is more than a conversation. It’s a philosophy.”
Board member Jude Laude said, “I want to commend you for the work you’ve done. It’s been intentional, and it’s community-building.” He then asked, “How much sharing of students with behavioral problems do you have with District 65? Is it possible students are experiencing this in District 65?”
“When students come to us,” Dr. Robinson said, “we take them as they are. When we have that information, we are very intentional and proactive.”
Mr. Laude said, “As the father of three black males, we need restorative justice not just with the safety staff but in the classroom. As a black man, this disproportionality really stuns me. … It’s a community problem. … We need to listen to conversations around the dining room table. … A strong family presence is needed.”
Dr. Campbell said, “Dr. Robinson and I have been looking at what more we can do with black male students.”
Dr. Robinson said, “We can tap into community agencies to bridge the gap with problems students have at home.”
Ms. Savage-Williams said, “We have many black men in the community who want to be part of this. We knew it was going to be challenging. While we will always have discipline – because we are a high school – we can see the trend, but we can also see the disparity.”