On June 10, the District 65 School Board approved a new Student Discipline Policy that plans to address student behavior in a holistic manner. The policy passed with little discussion on June 10, but the Board had lengthy discussions about proposed drafts of the policy at prior meetings. A team of administrators has been working on the revised policy for almost a year, and gathered input from administrators, teachers, families, students and community members.
A memo explaining the revised policy prepared by a team of seven administrators said, “Our goal is to develop a comprehensive Student Discipline Policy that aligns positive behavior expectations, restorative practices, and the district’s equity policy to support all students. We aim to decrease the number of students of color who are negatively impacted by our discipline policy and practices.”
For the last 10 years, the District has been attempting to reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions through the use of an alternative to suspensions and other programs. More recently the District has implemented a restorative practices model in which it is moving away from punishing students for disciplinary infractions, and instead attempting to change behaviors and bring students back into the school community through the use of restorative conferences, restorative conversations and peace circles.
The Draft Policy’s Vision Going Forward
Defining Effective Discipline
“The goal of effective discipline is to provide students with what they need to be successful in school and beyond,” says the new discipline policy. “Effective discipline should be part of a holistic effort that teaches students skills and guides them in taking responsibility for their actions, which leads to a safer, better organized, and purposeful learning environment; healthy school culture; and comprehensive social, emotional, and academic development that is much broader than discipline reform.”
The policy continues, “District 65 recognizes that effective school discipline is critical to academic success and requires both high standards of behavior and a culture of learning, as well as the use of restorative practices.”
The policy provides that its provisions be administered in a fair and equitable manner “so as not to disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQX students, students with limited English proficiency, or other at-risk students that have been historically marginalized in schools.”
General Statement of Policy
“D65 is committed to teaching all students and to addressing disruptive and/or dangerous behaviors that interfere with the learning of others,” says the policy. “This is best accomplished by preventing misbehavior before it occurs and using effective interventions after it occurs.”
The policy statement lists a “set of values and unbiased expectations,” which it says will help meet these responsibilities and balance the best interests of students. The values and expectations are:
1. “D65 acknowledges and strives to eliminate institutional racism that presents barriers to success in order to serve all students and to prepare them to be members of an increasingly diverse community; schools and staff must build cultural competence.
2. “Effective discipline can only occur in the context of a learning community with caring relationships.
3. “Effective discipline balances consistency with regard for the unique circumstances of the individual, including but not limited to; race, cultural background, disability, and traumatic life experiences.
4. “Each school and classroom have clearly defined rules that are explicitly taught and revisited. All students are held to high standards of behavior. Students should have input in the development of rules for their school and classrooms.
5. “Effective discipline is based on research and experience. Data is an essential tool for planning and continuous improvement. It assists with problem identification, problem solving, and progress monitoring.
6. “Effective discipline relies on evidence-based strategies and on an understanding of and responsiveness to the student’s age, developmental stage and individual needs based on culture, language, or disability or other relevant factors.”
Rights and Responsibilities
The policy states that students and parents or guardians have rights and responsibilities. The policy sets out 12 rights for students and nine for parents. Students and parents or guardians each have six responsibilities.
A student’s rights include a right to be treated with respect, to be a valued member of the school community, to be free of bullying and discrimination, to receive instruction on behavioral expectations and social and emotional learning, and to tell their side of the story.
A student has the responsibility to show respect to all students and staff, to attend school daily and be prepared for and participate in class, to manage their own behavior, and to follow all rules and instructions given by school staff.
A parent or guardian has the right to be treated with respect, to be valued by school staff and the school community, to be informed of school behavior expectations, to actively participate in problem solving with school staff related to their child’s behavior, and to advocate for their child.
A parent has the responsibility to show respect to all students and staff, to understand the school’s behavior expectations, to work with the school as a collaborative partner, to inform school officials of concerns, and to support their child to resolve issues peacefully while at school.
Prohibited Student Conduct
The new policy says the school administration is authorized to discipline students for “gross disobedience or misconduct” and it lists 19 categories of prohibited conduct. The rules apply to conduct on, or within the sight of, school grounds; to conduct at a school activity or event; to conduct while traveling to or from school or a school activity or event; and to other conduct that adversely affects the school environment, including threats to a staff member.
Prohibited conduct includes:
• possessing, using or selling tobacco, alcohol or any illegal drugs
• possessing, using or transferring a weapon
• possessing or using a two-way radio or a video recording device, without permission of the principal
• disobeying rules of student conduct or directives from staff members or school officials, such as to stop, present identification or submit to a search
• engaging in academic dishonesty, such as cheating or intentionally plagiarizing
• engaging in hazing or bullying or aggressive behavior that does physical or psychological harm to another student or staff person
• engaging in sexual activity, including offensive touching, sexual harassment and teen dating violence. This does not include non-disruptive expression of gender or sexual orientation or preference, or platonic displays of affection during non-instructional time (such as a high-five)
• stealing or damaging property, violating any criminal law, making a threat on the internet against a student or school staff member; being absent without a recognized excuse; being involved in a gang or gang-related activities.
The prohibited conduct no longer includes “disrespectful conduct.” Many people said the term was vague and many school staff subjectively applied the term to discipline Black and Latinx students much more often than White students.
Disciplinary Interventions and Measures
The policy provides, “School officials shall limit the number and duration of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions to the greatest extent practicable,” and where practicable and reasonable, school officials should use another type of disciplinary intervention that would keep students in the classroom.
The policy lists 21 different types of potential interventions and disciplinary measures. They include a disciplinary conference; a social-academic intervention group; a restorative conference or conversation; individual mentoring; development of a Multi-Tiered Support System plan; peer counseling; restitution; a restorative in-school suspension; an alternative to suspension; after-school study; community service; withholding of privileges; temporary removal from the classroom; suspension of bus-riding privileges; an out-of-school suspension; and an expulsion for a definite period of time not to exceed two years in accordance with Policy 7:210.
In determining the consequences due to misbehavior, the policy provides that staff must consider overall school safety, the needs of the student who committed the misconduct, the age and grade level of the student, the degree of harm caused, whether the offense is a first offense, the impact on the overall school community and the willingness and ability of the student to repair the harm done.
The District has been using restorative practices as a primary method of addressing misbehavior.
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 again in October 2014. The procedures encourage that an alternative to suspension be used in lieu of a suspension, and require that any suspension be approved by the Superintendent or his designee.
Now that the Board has decided to stop using School Resource Police Officers in the schools, school administrators and staff must be prepared to handle situations in which a student is engaging in aggressive behavior.
The policy provides that efforts, including the use of positive interventions and supports, “shall be made to deter students, while at school or a school related event, from engaging in aggressive behavior that may reasonably produce physical or psychological harm to someone else.”
While corporal punishment is prohibited, the policy says that the term corporal punishment “does not include reasonable force as needed to maintain safety for students, staff, or other persons, or for the purpose of self-defense or defense of property.”