The Illinois Association of School Boards
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ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL

Strategies for reducing suspensions
By David E. Bartz

David E. Bartz, Ph.D., is professor emeritus in the Department of Educational Leadership at Eastern Illinois University.

The requirements of Senate Bill 100 are prompting major changes in how schools address discipline, specifically punishment. In part, the bill is causing schools to focus on reducing suspensions, both in school and out of school. School personnel are scrambling to come up with ways to do so under the watchful eyes of board of education members and superintendents. School personnel in Illinois are not the only ones addressing the suspension issue. This is a national movement that some view as addressing the issue commonly known as the “school to prison pipeline.”

In Illinois, the group Voices of Youth in Chicago Education was instrumental in the establishment of Senate Bill 100. This “sweeping school discipline reform” took effect last fall after being signed into law, as Public Act 99-456, in 2015 by Governor Bruce Rauner.

I have studied suspensions for over 45 years. As an assistant junior high school principal of approximately 1,000 students in 1969-70, I was troubled because there were at least 100 suspensions, although there were fewer students actually suspended than the number of suspensions because of numerous repeat offenders. I was too caught up in the daily routine of the job to take time to be proactive, to figure out why the misbehaviors were occurring and how to change behaviors to reduce suspensions. This was my mistake. Since then, I have focused on what can be done to be proactive and minimize suspensions to the extent practicable.

From 1972 to 2006, I worked with school districts in Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Illinois on matters pertaining to school desegregation, often including suspension issues. Based on these experiences, studying research and literature on suspensions over the years, and talking with building administration in Illinois; the following techniques are offered as considerations for addressing Senate Bill 100.

These techniques are classified into four categories: communication of standards; instruction, classroom management, and staff development; administration and human relations; and counseling. It is unlikely all of these suspension reduction techniques are appropriate for any given building or district. Hence, it is important to select from these techniques, based on local needs.

Communication of standards

Without effective communications, expectations for student behaviors are not clear and left to the imagination — and sometimes misinterpretation — of students, teachers, and parents. Clearly communicated behavioral expectations for students’ behaviors are a cornerstone of an effective and fair student discipline policy. The techniques listed here will be useful to school personnel:

Instruction, classroom management, and staff development

The frontline of minimizing undesirable student behaviors is instruction that actively engages students in learning and builds positive teacher-student relationships. Effective classroom management creates a highly organized environment that prevents students from misbehaving through clear expectations and positive class identity. Staff development —especially for effective instruction and classroom management — is crucial to giving teachers the knowledge and skills to meaningfully engage students in learning and prevent undesirable behaviors. The techniques listed here will be beneficial to reducing undesirable student behaviors in the classroom.

Administration and human relations

Principals are responsible for managing all aspects of the school’s discipline program and being able to see the “big picture” of its effectiveness and areas for needed adjustments. Paramount to the principal’s responsibility is a human relations approach that informs and involves stakeholders in ways in which they are likely to be supportive, as opposed to being critics, of the discipline program. The techniques listed here will aid in the reduction on student misbehaviors.

Counseling

A counseling program that meets the needs of the student population can prevent many undesirable behaviors from initially occurring. Further, an effective counseling program coordinates services to address causes for unacceptable student behaviors and coordinates interventions to eliminate these behaviors. This is especially important for students with chronic behavior problems. The techniques listed here will aid in reducing undesirable student behaviors.

In conclusion

Being proactive and preventive regarding what might go wrong, before it goes wrong, is paramount to effective discipline — on both an individual student and group basis. It is important school personnel view effective discipline as preventing students from misbehavior, as opposed to using the number of students caught misbehaving as the measure of effectiveness. Safe and orderliness are keystones to effective schools. These factors need to be at the forefront as school personnel address Senate Bill 100. Lastly, it is paramount that school personnel establishing positive relationships and truly caring about each student as a human being.

This article is based in part on previous work presented in Urban Education, Strategies for Reducing Suspension. Volume 24, Number 2, p.p. 163-176, July 1989.

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Printed: 04/30/17

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