Maintaining discipline in a high school is a balancing act. Keeping students in class even when they've begun to make some bad choices — tardies, disruptive behavior — is vital. Keeping classrooms focused and safe is also essential. Making sure all students understand that there are consequences to acting out is a fundamental life lesson.
Right now Oak Park and River Forest High School is recalibrating its approach to student discipline. And the effort is not without bumps and frustrations. Last week we reported that first-semester detentions, in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions had all dropped by more than half from the previous year. This is the direct result of a school administration's effort to keep students in class while they ratchet up the consequences for not serving out the detentions being handed out.
As we said, a tough balance.
Principal Nathaniel Rouse was admirably candid in acknowledging that the change in approach was not universally popular with some faculty members. Where in the past tossing a disruptive student from class was likely to result in an in-school suspension that would keep the child out of the class for multiple days, now the student is back in class quickly but with other consequences applied. Rouse says the administration did an inadequate job preparing teachers for the change. Possible. Likely teachers also need some time to adjust to the change.
A student at the start of a descent into disruption and disconnection needs the opportunity, as well as the expectation, that they can turn their behavior and the knowledge that adults in the building will lay that responsibility on them. Students need to know that bad behavior is not the path to avoiding school but results in consequences that are layered onto schooling.
Challenges abound at OPRF. The opinion page in last week's student newspaper, Trapeze, offered a point/counterpoint between student journalists over which was the greater problem at the school: violent fighting in the hallways or rampant theft of electronics among students. No sugarcoating there.
One can trace the evolution of our high school, as it has become more diverse and more complex in recent decades, through its evolving approach to discipline. We're supportive of the current efforts, which are a mix of tough love – the semi-closed campus, the focus on getting to class on time, more security – and an expectation that education remains paramount.
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