By Terry Dean
Infractions and suspensions were down significantly for the fall 2012 semester at Oak Park and River Forest High School compared to the previous year's first semester, the high school reports.
Detentions, suspensions and expulsions declined over the two fall semesters. There were more than 700 suspensions in fall 2011 versus 266 so far this school year. Infractions have dropped by more than half over the same period, from roughly 3,600 in the first semester last year to about 1,400 this year. Only one student has been expelled so far this year, same as last year around this time.
Discipline data for fall 2012 was released last week.
Principal Nathaniel Rouse said the decline in consequences is due to the school's continued efforts to have a less punitive discipline system. The school's "Suspension Reduction Program," introduced this year, has also had a positive effect, Rouse said.
A student who receives a suspension for three or more days can qualify for the program and receive counseling or other interventions. That student can also remain in class while in the program. Forty-nine students qualified for the program after receiving either an in-school (ISS) or out-of-school (OSS) suspension. Only three students from that group declined to participate.
While touted as a success for keeping more students in the classroom, Rouse noted that some teachers have a problem with the program because a kid initially kicked out of class for poor behavior can return to the classroom, having accepted an intervention instead of a suspension.
Rouse acknowledged that the administration poorly communicated the program earlier in the year to faculty. Teachers also expressed concern about the overall safety of the campus with fewer students suspended for poor behavior.
"The last thing they want to do is send a student out of the class because they value that instructional time as much as anyone else. But when that happens there is an expectation that something [corrective] happens," Rouse said. "You can only imagine when there's an issue and a teacher finally decides to write a referral for a student, then that student shows up the next day, especially if a year ago in that same incident, that student perhaps wouldn't be in that class the next day."
Rouse also noted that consequences, overall, have been handed out differently this year. Consequences for the lesser serious infractions start with the least punitive, typically a detention.
"They start the consequence, no matter what the infraction is, with that lowest threshold," Rouse said. "We did that to eliminate the perception that some may have in the community that our student intervention directors, when they see students, their first response is going to the highest level threshold."
Failure to serve a detention continues to be the primary offense committed by students, accounting for the majority of infractions in the building. Rouse added that the school's new Code of Conduct will be implemented next month. The major change is a reduction in the ranges of consequences a student can face for a given infraction. Under the new code, a student will receive a specific consequence for a specific infraction.
Rouse says the school has also continued taking away campus privileges from students for certain infractions. Students, for instance, who continue to rack up detentions, are not allowed in sporting events or school concerts until they serve those detentions. Rouse said students have gotten the message and are serving those detentions.
The first semester's discipline data was presented and discussed at the March 21 District 200 Board of Education meeting. School board members were generally pleased with Rouse's report, especially the school's effort to keep more kids in class as opposed to being suspended.
Rouse stressed that the school is not becoming lax on discipline but rather is trying to help students make better decisions about their behavior.