Infractions, suspensions increase at OPRF

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

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. 

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Posted: April 2nd, 2014 11:41 AM

"More intervention"? I'd like some details. I became aware of developing tensions btw my student and a teacher and contacted the "behavioral interventionist", asking for help. He said that because it involved a teacher I should talk to the counselor - who was too busy to answer the phone or return my call. Eventually my kid walked out of the class and I got a stern call from the "BI". When I reminded him of my earlier call he shut his mouth. But the damage had already been done.

seen so much  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 11:16 AM

I agree with "so much to say" but the conversation needs to include D97. Privacy also limits what I can say but I've spent a lot of time in D97 elementary classrooms and it starts there. What parents do is important but we need to keep in mind that our kids spend 5-6 hours a day with their elementary teacher. These people are role models and teachers of social expectations as well as of math, etc. What they do and how they act sends a big message about which kids are or are/not valued.

so much to say  

Posted: April 1st, 2014 11:43 PM

White teachers at OPRF, as a general rule, tend to ignore the white students' behavior and focus on the black students. Jackie Moore is right. Involve the students in the conversation and maybe some eyes will finally be opened at OPRF. I won't cite our circumstances for privacy reasons but the treatment of students based on color is definitely there. Most of the teachers are unaware of their own actions. It's not a secret, OPRF administrators know it. Getting it to change is a different story

OP parent  

Posted: April 1st, 2014 9:52 PM

Suspension = serious infraction? . . . . depends on what you consider "serious". My kid got a suspension for trying to cut class. Obviously he should not have been cutting class. However, "punishing" a kid who is trying to get out of class by taking him out of class just seems stupid.

parent who reads  

Posted: April 1st, 2014 9:47 PM

Throughout the nation more and more school districts are realizing that punishment is not effective as a primary approach. Yes, sometimes punishment is necessary, but schools that use restorative justice programs not only see a decrease in discipline problems - they see kids learn how to deal with conflict in a positive manner. But setting up a restorative justice program takes work. A principal whose first choice is increased punishment is a lazy principal. Yes, I'm talking about Rouse.

Winter Skye from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: April 1st, 2014 8:03 PM

The reason the school cannot solve this problem is because it's an inside job. No outer program will ever trump a healthy family. Even a boy (probably the vast majority of suspensions are male students) having a father in his life will be better off than not having this. I've worked in schools. One boy I dealt with was angry and placed in SPED for his emotional difficulties. Turns out his dad was in jail. Why do we think this would not affect children? And what of those students who have no idea who their father is? Most of us knew our fathers, lived with our fathers. Whether we had a good, mediocre or negative relationship, having a father means having more wholeness in a student's life.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: April 1st, 2014 7:27 PM

If the school's efforts, "don't appear to be working," where are the parents in this? Why is it always on the school with some people?

Winter Skye from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: April 1st, 2014 7:16 PM

@ Longtime OP Rez and Race: So you guys really think that OP is full of racist teachers? That is really a joke. We know that this is one of the most liberal places on the planet. So that theory doesn't wash. The truth is that the screaming headline regarding racial disparity of punishment neglects to mention whether or not the student in question refused to obey the teacher and became defiant. You don't get suspended right off the bat unless the crime is severe. And most kids who get suspended probably don't bring guns to school or beat someone up. It's probably more like refusing to behave and the problem escalating. And with all the Black boys at the bottom academically, it's no wonder that in their shame they act out and refuse to conform to the rules.

Long time OP resident from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 11:51 AM

Laws cease to have meaning when they are inconsistently & unfairly enforced. We have a history of harsher punishment to Blacks than to Whites who commit the same crimes; harsher punishments to the poor than the wealthy who commit the same or worse crimes. We create defiant attitudes when there is no expectation of fairness. (Treyvon Martin & Jordan Davis). OPRF and this nation have a lot of work to do to restore faith in our justice system which has been notoriously bigoted for centuries.

dreamer from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 3:22 PM

I,for one,am glad to see the high school cracking down on infractions.Having had four children graduate from OPRF,I can state that the discipline is far too lax.This affects the school's reputation,and scares away potential homebuyers.It is even worse(as far as tolerating swearing at teachers,habitual tardiness,classroom disruptions)at our middle schools.Teachers are afraid of enforcing rules,because of the fraudulent rubric of equal outcomes(racially),reflecting social justice and "fairness."

Race & suspensions  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 11:47 AM

This was recently highlighted by others as a nationwide problem where minorities are punished at a far higher rate even in preschool and elementary. So it's not just OPRFHS. Kudos for trying to address the issue locally though.

Violet Aura  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 10:51 AM

The racial angle always makes me want to pull my hair out. Suspensions occur for two reasons that I can think of: very serious infractions (like bringing a gun to school) and escalation of the situation. I think the latter is the most common reason for racial disparity. In other words, if a student is being disruptive and one is White and one is Black, the White student is probably mroe likely to comply. The Black student might be more likely to talk back to the teacher, get physical, etc.

Jim Bowman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 10:40 AM

Disparity in punishments = disparity in offenses? Not? Offenders/punished defend selves, as often the case. Staff at fault here? Offenders? Deep questions here. Open mind, anyone?

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