Haven Middle School.

The principal of Haven Middle School says the number of discipline referalls has dropped significantly in the past two months.

Chris Latting told a town hall parents’ meeting on Wednesday night that that there were 276 such referrals from March 1-24, 210 from March 26-April 15, and 142 from April 18-May 3.

Haven parents and teachers have complained over the past several months about student fights and other behavior problems at the school.

Latting said “we’re pretty happy” with the downward trend in referrrals, which “coincides with some of the supports we’ve put in place” to help the low percentage of students who are causing much of the trouble.

However, several parents raised questions. About 200 people were on hand, roughly 75 in person at Haven, the rest on Zoom.

One parent pointed out that spring break was March 21-26, so there could not have been any discipline referrals when no one was in the building.

Another said it’s possible teachers are simply writing fewer behavior citations, rather than the number of incidents actually going down.

Latting said the vast majority of referrals were for the lowest level infraction, such as not being in the right part of the classroom or building, or unauthorized use of electronic devices, such as cell phones.

However, another parent asked “what’s the referral rate for a fight?,” or other higher-level infractions.

Latting said the rate for such issues is low, but promised to release it soon.

The transfer of seven veteran Haven teachers was also questioned.

“A lot of those teachers were rock stars,” said one parent, as other parents in the auditorium burst into applause.

Latting said that Haven has to reduce the number of class sections next school year due to declining enrollment, and said some teachers have to be moved based on whether they were certified or not to teach different subjects.

For example, he stated, class reduction means an educator might have to teach both science and social studies, and not everyone has “dual endorsement” which makes that possible.

He also noted that fewer sections will mean somewhat larger class size. Sixth grade, for example, will go from 14 sections this year to 11 in the fall.

Critics, including three former Haven PTA presidents, have said the teacher transfers were punitive, targeting union representatives and other leaders who have spoken out about discipline issues.

However, the principal said that the main reason behind teacher transfers was “all about trying to keep everyone on the job,” and avoid layoffs.

Still, there was concern about student safety.

One parent said “there are moments when my daughter comes home and says I’m afraid to go to school.”

He asked if remote learning was possible, perhaps for a day or two.

The answer to that was “no,” although Latting stressed that the student could talk with a counselor or social worker about her concerns.

Another issue is race. Two Black parents noted what they believe is the disproportionate number of African-American students receiving referrals.

One of the fathers said “we as Black parents of Black kids” feel differently than do other parents.

“A lot of Black males,” he said, “get these stigmas. They’re not being treated as kids any more.”

Haven has or will add a number of staff such as counselors or social workers, the principal said, along with establishing partnerships with social service agencies to help improve the climate and culture at the school.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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