By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School experienced an increase in infractions and consequences in the fall 2013 semester compared to the previous year's fall session.
OPRF saw an increase in suspensions, both in-school (ISS) and out-of-school (SS), in the first semester. So far this school year, there have been 472 total suspensions compared to 266 in fall 2012. Infractions also increased, up 17 percent over that period, according to fall 2013 discipline data released by the high school.
The increased infractions and consequences handed out are tied to a change in the school's Code of Conduct, according to Principal Nathaniel Rouse, who presented the data to the District 200 Board of Education on March 20.
"Defiance of authority," for example, has become an increased problem among some students, warranting a more severe consequence, a suspension, Rouse explained.
The high school, he added, is trying to curtail inappropriate behavior through tougher consequences and also more intervention with students.
But the increase in consequences may not be achieving that goal, said D200 board member Sharon Patchak-Layman. The two-term member expressed concern about the increase, saying the numbers indicate that the school's efforts don't appear to be working.
Rouse, however, stressed that the school has seen infractions and consequences decrease in recent years despite the uptick this year. The high school has moved to a "one-to-one" model of issuing consequences, he added. The one-to-one model removed a range of consequences handed out for a specific infraction. Specific infractions now receive a specific consequence.
But has that created a more punitive discipline system, something the high school has tried to move away from? asked other D200 members at last Thursday's board meeting.
Rouse said the school's behavioral interventionists — formerly referred to as discipline deans — still have discretion to issue a lesser consequence, or an intervention such as counseling, for certain infractions.
But infractions such as drug or weapon possessions, do fall under that one-to-one model, Rouse explained.
The majority of infractions continue to be handed out for failing to serve detentions, according to the data. Missing from the fall 2013 discipline report is any mention of expulsions. For the fall 2012 semester, only one expulsion was issued. Expulsions had been in the double digits over a period of years from roughly 2002 to 2007. No expulsion data was included in this year's first semester report.
Among student groups, black students continue to dominate infractions and consequences handed out, representing 71 percent of in-school suspensions and 65 percent of out-of-school suspensions in the first semester. Rouse said this remains a concern for the high school and something they're working to reduce. Board member Jackie Moore also expressed concern about that issue.
She said the students' voices need to be a part of the conversation. Those she's talked to about the issue have expressed their own frustrations, she said, about how discipline is handed out to black students versus others.
D200 board President John Phelan urged the high school to zero in on the racial disparity and fairness issue with respect to discipline.