How U-46 cut out-of-school suspensions by 74% in 8 years

 
 
Updated 2/15/2016 9:09 AM
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  • Elgin Area School District U-46 has dramatically reduced out-of-school suspensions and provides students in-school interventions such as this program at Streamwood High School.

      Elgin Area School District U-46 has dramatically reduced out-of-school suspensions and provides students in-school interventions such as this program at Streamwood High School. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

When it comes to correcting bad behavior in students, the old school model of kicking them out of school and onto the streets just doesn't work, experts say.

It only pushes those struggling students farther away from learning and could lead to truancy or participation in gangs or illegal drug and alcohol use, say officials at the state's second-largest school district.

"The more kids we put on the streets the more problems they are going to have," said John Heiderscheidt, Elgin Area School District U-46 director of school safety and culture. "The more harsh punishments we attempt to use ... the research shows kids actually believe that we don't really care about them. The goal is keeping kids in school."

In an effort to stem that tide, U-46 has adopted in-school solutions to deal with behavioral offenses, dramatically reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions over the past eight years.

"The out-of-school suspension model is based on homes that have people in them when kids are not in school," Heiderscheidt said. "I don't know that really that's the reality of our families anywhere."

Gone are the days when the district used to suspend some students more than 10 days out of the school year for behavioral problems.

"The default was to use out-of-school suspension and remove the student from school, and we were bringing the student back really with no intervention plan," Heiderscheidt said.

U-46 officials initially focused on reducing out-of-school suspensions that added up to more than 10 days in one school year for some students.

A new state law going into effect in September will require school districts to further reduce their use of punitive and exclusionary disciplinary measures, unless the student poses a threat to school safety or disrupts the learning environment. Suspensions and expulsions would then be reserved for the most serious offenses.

"If you are suspended for five or more days out of school, the law requires that the school provides the same services that the student would have in school," Heiderscheidt said.

In U-46, fighting in school previously would have resulted in a five-day out-of-school suspension. Today, it's a two- to three-day suspension. In some cases, if there was no major disruption and the dean or principal decides, it even could be an in-school suspension, Heiderscheidt said.

U-46 has gone from having 7,082 out-of-school suspensions in the 2007-08 school year to 1,827 in 2014-15 -- a 74 percent reduction.

"We are running about 33 percent lower than we were last year so we are looking at somewhere in the range of 1,400 out-of- school suspensions for behavioral offenses," Heiderscheidt said.

Now, there is a re-entry plan for students returning to school. An administrator or teacher has a conference with the student and parents to work on changing behaviors and keeping the student out of trouble.

While there was a spike last school year in out-of-school suspensions related to drugs and alcohol -- up from 166 in 2013-14 to 204 in 2014-15 -- heroin awareness has increased and there were no cases involving heroin in the schools, he added.

Disciplinary action involving drug and alcohol abuse increased by 45 percent in the district's five high schools, whereas the middle schools saw a 50 percent reduction, the data shows.

Suspensions related to weapons decreased from 43 in 2013-14 to 31 in 2014-15.

The number of students suspended for fighting in school also is down from 909 in 2007-08 to 385 in 2014-15.

"We've come a long way in the last 10 years," Heiderscheidt said, adding that school officials work closely with local police departments and school resource officers to prevent gang-related fights in schools.

Training school employees on crisis intervention and how to manage fights has been key to reducing the occurrences, officials said. Forty-eight percent of employees have had such training, up from 4 percent in 2009-10, Heiderscheidt said.

At Streamwood High School, the entire staff has been trained on crisis prevention and intervention within the past three years.

"They saw their escalation for fights reduced to the lowest level in the school district from being one of the highest levels in the district," Heiderscheidt said.

Today, using positive behavioral interventions, students facing suspension or expulsion are given an opportunity to continue their education in an alternative setting.

"We still have expellable offenses occurring. Keeping kids in an educational setting is the focus," Heiderscheidt said.

Suspensions: 'We've come a long way in the last 10 years'

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