The Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board’s Policy Committee Monday night discussed changing guidelines to address a recent increase suspensions, particularly among black students.
Joyce Bartz, assistant superintendent of special services, says the number of out-of-school suspension days was around 10 per hundred students in 2014.
After a change to the policy to make consequences for students less exclusionary, the number of suspensions decreased to less than five per hundred students in 2015.
During the same time period, suspensions among black students went from over 25 per hundred to around 10 per hundred.
A state law passed in 2015, representing an effort by the state to curtail the “school to prison pipeline,” prohibited zero-tolerance policies that require administrators to suspend or expel students for certain offenses unless required by law, such as for weapons or drugs.
Suspensions declined further after changes to district policies were implemented based on the state law.
However, though they have decreased, the proportion of suspensions among black students continues to be significantly higher than the proportion of the student body overall.
And since 2016, out-of-school suspensions among all students have started to tick upward.
Bartz outlined the administration’s next steps in revising the suspension policy and addressing equity issues that include developing a uniform Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system, updating suspension notices and the student handbook and conducting information sessions with parents on the suspension policy.
In addition, the district will add resources such as a break room for students who need a break in the middle of the day, attended by a social worker or psychologist, as well as academic support rooms.
“We want to develop different kinds of interventions, in order to address something that happened, as opposed to something exclusionary,” said Bartz. “We’re thinking of restorative practices such as an apology or community service, that would help promote children’s positive feelings about themselves.”
The School Climate Team process is also expected to help address the issue. “The climate process allows us to look at data for each school and analyze it, looking for the root causes of racial disparity in the area of discipline.”
As they develop an action plan for each building, Bartz says, “Our goal is to foster a positive school climate, identify clear expectations and build staff capacity through equity training to ensure fairness.”