African-American students made up more than half of all out-of-school suspensions handed out at Oak Park and River Forest High School for the first three months of the 2005 school year, according to a recently released first-quarter report by the school.

Of the 249 students who received out-of-school suspensions from Aug. 24 through mid-October, 51 percent, approximately 128 students, were African-American. Eighty-eight white students, or 35 percent of the total, received out-of-school suspensions. Thirty-three students of other ethnicities, or 14 percent, were also suspended.

As for total in-school, out-of-school and after-school suspensions, 473 have been handed out, meaning that a number of the students are receiving multiple suspensions. Truancy and failure to serve mandatory detentions were the top two factors contributing to student detentions.

The quarterly report is the first ever released by OPRF. Previous year’s discipline data were compiled for end-of-semester and end-of-year reports. The District 200 school board requested that a quarterly report be done for this school year. OPRF’s lingering discipline and achievement gap between black and white students prompted the decision, said board President John Rigas.

The board requested a quarterly report in an attempt to look at early trends among students.

Though this is the first year the school has released a quarterly report on discipline, numbers compiled at the same stretch last year were slightly higher. Quarterly data from 2004 found that 488 in-school, out-of-school and after-school suspensions were handed out to 293 students.

Assistant Superintendent Donna Stevens cited a number of school initiatives for helping to bring down suspensions.

OPRF’s new automated attendance system, which calls homes automatically if a student is truant or absent, and school programs to target recidivist students were among the two.

“We hope it means that our interventions are working and that these numbers will slow down,” said Stevens.

The next discipline report will come at the end of the fall semester and be released in January.

The dip in suspensions this year, however, is not cause for celebration, said Carl Spight, institutional researcher at OPRF.

“I think we need to be very guarded and cautious before declaring any kind of victory,” said Spight, noting that the pattern of overly represented black students, and black male in particular, remains high. “It doesn’t say things are getting better until you look at what was done to address the problem. You have to look at what has changed systematically.”

With a total student enrollment of roughly 3,100, African-Americans represent the second largest group of OPRF’s student body behind whites at 24.9 percent, but for years have represented nearly double that average in discipline cases. OPRF has 788 African-Americans students enrolled. The school’s 1,969 white students represent 62.2 percent of the student body. Students of other ethnicities make up 12.9 percent, with 409 students enrolled, according to school figures.

At OPRF, black males were cited for a high frequency of “aggressive physical behavior,” one of top violations of the school’s Code of Conduct.

Stevens said discipline among black students, and males in particular, often comes down to poor decision-making and bad choices students make. Stevens noted that this aspect of behavior as it relates to discipline is difficult for school systems and society to comprehend.

“They are trying to grasp it,” she said of OPRF. This is a big school. I think we are trying to better understand it.”


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