Fewer Oak Park and River Forest High School students were suspended this past school year compared to the previous year, according to discipline data released last week by the high school.

OPRF is reporting an overall decline in suspensions-both in-school (ISS) and out-of-school (OSS)-as well as detentions for the 2007-2008 school year. Overall, it’s the first decline in suspensions in the last four years. OPRF officials say fewer consequences were handed out this past year in favor of other interventions, but can’t say for sure that student behavior has shown marked improvement.

Black students still dominate the discipline system, the data shows. And despite the overall declines, the percentage of black students suspended compared to the overall student body is virtually identical the last two years.

A discussion of the data occurred last Thursday during the regular District 200 Board of Education meeting. The discussion included what can be done to intervene much earlier with students who repeatedly end up in the discipline system.

According to a summary report provided by administration, out-of-school suspensions declined by 24.6 percent from the previous school year. In-school suspensions declined by 22.4 percent, and detentions, classified as an after-school program (ASP) fell by 40.7.

The data showed in-school suspensions falling from 541 to 420 this past year from ’06 -’07. Out-of-school suspensions fell from 252 to 190 over the same period. Those totals represent the number of consequences handed out, not the total number of students disciplined. Gender or racial breakdowns of students receiving consequences were not included in the official summary.

The summary noted, however, that black students remain disproportionately represented in the discipline system.

Carl Spight, OPRF’s statistician, provided that data at the meeting. Those figures showed that while suspensions were down overall, the percentage of blacks in the discipline system has remained constant. Blacks also continue to have high rates of recidivism, the data shows.

Board member Ralph Lee questioned whether suspensions had decreased simply because fewer consequences had been given out. Former interim principal Don Vogel said the high school did make an effort to steer students toward less punitive interventions last year instead of just handing out consequences-a change in discipline philosophy introduced by new Supt. Attila Weninger.

The number of expulsions, Vogel added, also dramatically declined, from a total of 26 in ’06-’07 to just four this past year.

Pupil Support credited

Vogel credited the overall decline to the reemergence of Pupil Support Services in the last year. PPS, an intervention model of various programs and staff at the high school, underwent a restructuring the last two years.

But administration was unable to provide hard evidence or data showing what direct impact PPS has had on discipline.

Supt. Weninger said at the meeting that the school wants to report more on what’s being done for students who are disciplined rather than just enumerating consequences. He asked the board about what data they’d like to see included in future reports.

But Spight said that was “putting the cart before the horse.” The school’s data is adequate, he insisted. Black students, for instance, have consistently been overrepresented in the discipline system for more than a decade, and those numbers haven’t budged.

In ’06-’07, blacks represented 68.2 percent of students receiving an ISS. In ’07-’08, the number increased to 73.6 percent. Out-of-school suspensions, at 66.3 percent, remained unchanged.

As for the total number of students, 186 black students were suspended this past school year, down from 213 the previous year. But African-Americans made up roughly 60 percent of students suspended at the high school the last two years although they comprise only a quarter of total student population.

Spight, who said he has analyzed these numbers for more than decade, argued that the problem was not inadequate data but a lack of focus on student interventions at OPRF.

“The question is not what data we should report out, but what should we be investing in strategically to break this cycle of dramatic overrepresentation of African-American males, and now females, in the discipline system here at the high school,” he said, adding that the recidivism rate of black female students is also dramatic.

Spight said those students can be identified in the first few weeks of the school year. OPRF’s “data dilemma,” he noted, is how to show if its intervention programs are impacting those students.

“We have to talk about programs, not student outcomes. We have to talk about remediation, interdictions and interventions, and holding folk accountable for these students,” Spight said. “We will continue to show this pattern until we break the cycle in our behavior, and our behavior is punitive and a response to infraction of rules. You know what? That doesn’t work.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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