At the Nov. 18 District 65 School Board meeting, Kylie Klein, Director of Research, Accountability and Data, presented the District’s annual discipline report for the 2018-2019 school year (SY’19).  

The data show that the number of out-of-school suspensions in SY’19 decreased by 43% compared to SY’18, and the number of suspension incidents involving black students decreased by 48% in the same period.

“These are really positive trends in the data,” said Ms. Klein, adding that the “huge” declines are attributable to the equity and restorative justice work going on in the schools.   

Out-of-School Suspensions

The total number of out-of-school suspensions increased from 110 in SY’16 to 142 in SY’18, and then it dropped to 81 in SY’19.  

The average number of days suspended was 1.72 days in SY’18, and it was 1.73 days in SY’19.

In SY’19, suspended students lost a total of 140 days of in-school learning due to suspensions, down from 245 in SY’ 18. 

There is still a significant disparity in the number of out-of- school suspensions by race/ethnicity. In SY’19, there were 47 suspensions of black students, compared to 11 for Latinx students, 8 for multi-racial students and 14 for White students. Except for white students these were significant drops from SY’18. The chart below shows the trends.

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 SY’09, there were a total of 456 incidents that led to out-of- school suspensions. In SY’19 the number dropped to 81.

As the number of behavioral incidents that qualified for an out-of-school suspension declined, the need for an alternative to suspension also declined. In SY’18, the District used the alternative to suspension program to provide counseling services to 66 families. In SY’19, the number dropped to 24.

Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs)

Under recent revisions to the discipline policy, the District and each school are implementing restorative practices. “These practices support a holistic approach to creating positive learning environments and supporting students and staff in addressing behavior incidents. In SY’19, school teams used Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs) to monitor behavior incidents,” says the report on discipline.  

An Office Discipline Referral is used when negative behaviors are persistent or become major issues, Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said in a prior meeting. The District uses the ODRs to develop supports and interventions for students.

The data show that 10% of all students had one or more ODRs for a major incident in SY’19, down from 12% in SY’18. 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, 23% of black students had an ODR in SY’19, compared to 6% of white students.

The chart below shows the percentage of students in each subgroup that had one or more ODRs for major incidents in SY’19.

Students with IEPs

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

• In SY’19, 57% of all suspensions were of students who had an IEP, and

• 16% of all students who had an IEP had one or more ODRs for a major incident.

The Type of Disciplinary Incidents

The four main types of conduct that led to a suspension in SY’19 were physical violence (28 incidents, down from 37 in SY’18), disrespectful, aggressive, or threatening behavior (22 incidents, down from 49), disrupting or distracting behavior (9 incidents, up from 7) and theft/vandalism (8 incidents, down from 13). These accounted for 83% all suspensions.

There was a drop in disrespect of school authority from 17 in SY’18 to 5 in SY’19.

Board Comments

Candance Chow said, “We all have to acknowledge this is significant and meaningful progress,” and she thanked administrators, principals, educators, Board members and families “who are in this journey to restorative work with us, and we are all growing our capacity around that.”

She summarized some of the data going back to SY’15, including that in the last five years the number of suspensions of black students declined by 69%. She also noted that in SY’19, more than 50% of the suspensions were of students who had an IEP.

Ms. Chow asked, “What are we continuing to do to insure we are not disciplining students because of their IEP designation.”

Ms. Klein said there are fewer students with an IEP receiving suspensions for in-class disrespect. “I think that our educators understand that for some students, situations are triggers, and it’s a manifestation of the disability and they recognize that. 

Mr. Khelghati added that there were 46 incidents that led to suspensions of students with an IEP, and they were spread across 11 schools. “There was not a significantly higher incident rate at one school where there was a constant suspension of students with IEPs.”

Ms. Chow also raised another point, “As we’re having this conversation, there’s the ‘and,’ not a ‘but,’ of safety. For me it raises the question of how do we monitor the feeling and perception and reality of feelings of safety for students, staff and families in our District.”

She said the 5Essentials survey may contain some information on perceptions of safety in the schools, and added, “As we’re moving towards really trying to keep kids in school and restorative practices, and also ensuring safe and welcoming environments, those two work hand in hand. How do we think about that?”

On the 2019 5Essentials Survey, the District was given a score of 44 on safety, where 50 was average and scores of 40-59 fell within an average range. The score was based primarily on responses by fourth- through eighth-graders. 

“Safety is the goal of restorative practices,” said Dr. Khelghati. “It’s the goal. What we have learned is zero tolerance policies and exclusion don’t lead to increased safety.”

He said, “How we attend to the needs of students and the supports that they require leads to safety. … Let’s talk about what the need is, what is the need for those students and what do we need to put in place to support those children to make sure they’re successful. That’s going to lead to real safety.”

Board member Elizabeth Lindsay-Ryan said the District has been providing many professional learning opportunities for staff that have focused on equity, respect and putting a cultural lens on things. “I’m really excited to see these numbers move the way that they have because to me it demonstrates the investments are having an impact. … The urgency continues to exist.”

Board President Suni Kartha said, “I wholeheartedly support our move to restorative practices and the focus we have on that. But I do think, to the community there could be a disconnect in our celebrating restorative practices and what they’re experiencing or what their children are experiencing in school.”

She asked if in next year’s report, “Can we include the narrative of how restorative practices fit into this story – helping to lessen the number of suspensions, lessen the number of ODRs, and that it is really being utilized for the purpose that we want it to be utilized – keeping kids in the classroom.

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...