The District 97 Board of Education voted unanimously at a May 28 regular meeting to approve a 3-year action plan meant to address student behavior and culture at the Oak Park district's elementary and middle schools.
The plan calls for the implementation of common behavioral protocols across the district; increasing professional development opportunities; closer monitoring of restorative justice practices in schools; enhancing resources for students' social, emotional and mental health needs; and hiring three more staffers who will be responsible for implementing the plan.
During a May 14 board meeting, Carrie Kamm, director of Equity and Felicia Starks-Turner, senior director of student and administrative services, said their multi-year action plan was prompted by their attendance at Loyola University Chicago's School Discipline Reform certificate program.
They were able to attend the program at reduced price after the Illinois State Board of Education cited D97 last year "for disproportionately excluding African-American students and students with IEPs from school due to out-of-school suspensions."
As part of the certificate program, Kamm and Starks-Turner said, they conducted a root cause analysis "by reviewing our current suspension data and office discipline referral data to better understand why our African-American students and students with IEPs are experiencing exclusionary discipline at rates higher than other students."
The two administrators identified one root cause as the "lack of common expectations and understanding" among teachers and staffers of Tier 1 supports, such as mental health screenings, acknowledging positive behaviors, restorative justice circles, school-wide behavior expectations and data-based classroom planning.
As part of the multi-year plan, a district committee has been working to revise the Effective Student Behavior Handbook so that it more closely aligns with the district's priorities, Starks-Turner and Kamm said.
"Although it has not yet been finalized, it will move us away from zero-tolerance policies and exclusionary practices toward proactive approaches that focus on building student and staff skills and competencies, which, in turn, lead to greater productivity and success," explained Kamm, who noted that the district will also focus on providing more intensive professional development for teachers in those Tier 1 practices and codifying them in a handbook.
The board also approved the hiring of an additional Culture and Climate coach for Julian and Brooks and two additional Culture and Climate coaches for the elementary schools. The coaches are responsible for making sure that those Tier 1 supports, among other resources, are in place across the district.
The board's approval of the plan came two weeks after teachers at Brooks and Julian voiced their concerns about student behavior in the schools. The teachers attributed what they described as widespread misbehavior and a culture of disrespect to the lack of uniform disciplinary procedures in the schools, which some said is the result of the district's spotty implementation of Senate Bill 100 — a state law that took effect in 2016 and is designed to decrease student suspensions.
During the May 14 meeting, Starks-Turner and Kamm said the move away from punitive disciplinary measures is a work in progress and that the multi-year action plan is a step toward realizing the kind of uniformity that teachers want.
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