Behind most statistics, there is a complex story, and the recent figures on discipline cases at Oak Park and River Forest High School have perhaps a more nuanced history than most. Taken alone, the numbers?#34;especially the 93 percent increase in the number of overall students punished for breaking rules?#34;are quite alarming.
The school administration has explained this increase in part by noting that a change in truancy policies?#34;handing it over to teachers, rather than perpetuating its rather lax call-in policy, has largely contributed to a spike. This analysis is one we're willing to accept, to a point. Especially when considering the increase in the number of after-school suspensions, a common punishment for cutting class.
What this doesn't explain, however, is the increase in out of school suspensions, which are up 68 percent over last year. We feel confident that those aren't due to stricter attendance policies, and that this figure represents a real and present problem.
Also consistently troubling is the overrepresentation of African American students in the discipline process. This year's statistics aren't as much surprising, as they are disappointing. Just as in the last school year, African Americans represented 48 percent of the students involved in discipline cases, though they make up only 25 percent of the school population.
There obviously hasn't been much progress on that front, despite what we believe to be a smattering of sincere efforts on the part of the school administration.
Once the school and the community at large accept that there truly is a problem here beyond just kids cutting class (which we hope they do), the question becomes what should be done about it.
First, this problem cannot be hoisted on any particular party, whether it be parents or D200 officials. And bridging the gap between parents and officials has not been made easier recently, in part due to what we perceive to be a rising animosity between the school and some parent groups.
In recent years, groups such as APPLE, appeared to have a relatively stable working relationship with Superintendent/Principal Susan Bridge. Now, APPLE and other disaffected parents with issues ranging from Special Ed to discipline, seem to be unable to effectively communicate with school officials. To solve these problems there needs to be a healthy relationship between OPRF and parents?#34;both the outraged and the overly complacent. Harder work is needed on all sides to make this happen.
On the administration side, we also fear the school board will soon be swallowed by the lengthy superintendent-search process, and may lose sight of this issue.
On the nuts-and-bolts of education, we still believe there are many teachers who can't adequately cope with a multi-racial, multi-cultural student population?#34;especially one that is quite segregated, depending on whether the class be basic, regular, or honors level. This not only affects achievement, but discipline. And the problem is multiplied by the fact that many African American parents are not as savvy when it comes to working the placement system.
All that said, we can't emphasize enough that this is a community-wide, not a school problem. There are organizations trying to work closely with families, including Township Youth Services, for which we have the highest respect. The police?#34;whose involvement in school discipline issues we recognize as a sometimes necessary evil?#34;are doing their part by increasing the number of resource officers in schools.
Despite those efforts, however, there needs to be a stronger community commitment to solving this problem. An effective, integrated education system is in large part what will help Oak Park sustain its prized stable diversity. Bridging any racial gap so obvious is necessary. It's just a question of where Oak Park focuses its energy.
Right now, there are plenty of community groups and citizens fighting tooth and nail over buildings that are too tall and poorly placed. We would suggest that it's time for Oak Park to take this issue up as a much more noble cause.