Elgin Area School District U-46 officials acknowledged they aren't doing enough to address racial inequities with the overrepresentation of black students in referrals for discipline.
School board members Monday directed the administration to develop an equity plan addressing concerns of implicit racial bias and cultural discrimination.
Student referrals for discipline went from 8,802 in the 2015-16 school year to 8,876 last year.
About 22 percent of the roughly 39,000 students are involved in the referrals. While black students comprise roughly 6 percent, or about 2,500, of the population, more than half those students are involved in referrals, and about 60 percent of black male students face some form of discipline, data show.
"The overall behavior offense that causes the most discipline referrals is defiance -- disrespect insubordination and noncompliance," said John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture.
While the number of unique students receiving referrals has decreased for the white and Latino populations the past four years, it has remained steady or increased for blacks, who also are overrepresented in out-of-school suspensions, officials said.
School board member Traci O'Neal Ellis called the statistics "distressing" and a systemic American problem.
"Research shows black male children do not act out more than white children. They act differently," she said.
Ellis said what's happening in U-46 mirrors a national trend and reflects how blacks are profiled and disproportionately penalized by the justice system.
"Kids can't learn if they are not in school," she said. "We have to address implicit bias. This has to be an imperative. I don't care if we stop out-of-school suspensions because something is going wrong. If we saw this disproportionality among white students this would be fixed. The community wouldn't stand for it and everybody's job would be on the line. I want that same sense of urgency for our black male students."
Heiderscheidt stressed U-46's system of discipline is not built on punishments, but focuses on interventions and consequences.
"We need to build more interventions that are actually differentiated for all students," Heiderscheidt said. "Our interventions are working for some students. They are not working for all students."
Officials are trying to raise awareness during safety and crisis prevention trainings about race and ethnicity and disproportionality in student discipline. More than 500 district employees have undergone equity training this year.