U-46 leaders discuss racial equity, student discipline
Elgin Area School District U-46 officials Monday night discussed the state of equity within their schools, including data showing black students being overrepresented in all forms of student discipline.
Nearly 1,300 black students -- 51 percent of the district's overall black population of 2,535 students -- were involved in some form of discipline in the 2016-17 school year. Black students also represented 26 percent of all out-of-school suspensions that year.
"They are overrepresented in all categories of discipline," including in-school and out-of-school suspensions, arrests, and expulsions, said John Heiderscheidt, U-46 director of school safety and culture. "We are seeing a disproportionate number of referrals for African-American students. If our goal is behavior change, we need to be thinking about intervention differently."
U-46's total student population last year was 39,692 -- roughly 6 percent blacks, 28 percent whites and 53 percent Latinos. Overall student referrals for discipline went up slightly from 8,802 in the 2015-16 school year to 8,883 last year. Out-of-school suspensions increased from an all-time low of 874 in 2015-16 to 1,009 last year, data show.
Comparatively, 24 percent of the overall Latino population of 21,286 students and roughly 17 percent of 10,810 white students were referred for disciplinary issues. Latino students also represented 54 percent and white students represented 12 percent of out-of-school suspensions last year.
"Our interventions are working for some students, but not necessarily working for other students," Heiderscheidt said.
Bullying, threats and offenses involving drugs and weapons rose last year. Of those, bullying saw the most significant increase from 381 cases in 2015-16 to 570 cases last year.
"Our reporting methods online are being used more and more," Heiderscheidt said. "We are seeing a pretty significant uptick in physical contact and aggression."
Incidents of inappropriate physical contact between students went up from 317 the year before to 889 last year, and physical aggression went up from 1,763 to 2,463 last year. However, student fights without injuries went down from 589 to 317 last year, data show.
Administrators also updated the school board on efforts taken, under way and future plans for equity awareness and training for employees.
Recognizing that black males was the largest student group being referred for disciplinary issues, the district brought in a psychologist to work with elementary school administrators to identify reasons for those referrals.
In elementary schools, students were being called out for simply not being able to sit still for 50 minutes, said Terri Lozier, assistant superintendent of secondary schools instruction and equity.
"Sometimes students need to move, wiggle, respond in a certain way, and maybe those ways were being identified as disrespectful (by teachers)," she said. "For next school year, what we will be planning on is having the same equity group that's working with the elementary administrators to work with the secondary administrators."
Illinois' implicit racial bias training law went into effect last July. That requires districts to train employees on equity, which is about supporting students based on their individual needs, said Ron Raglin, U-46 assistant superintendent of support programs and alignment.
U-46 has provided equity training for more than 1,250 employees since the 2012-13 school year. The yearlong voluntary training involves improving employees' understanding of implicit racial bias, how to overcome it, and how to achieve cultural competency and proficiency.
Teachers, staff members and also some community members have attended U-46's equity training, Raglin added.
"As a district we have a lot to be proud of, but we also have a lot of work to do," CEO Tony Sanders said. "We can and will do better."