Student referrals for bad behavior up in U-46, report shows
Elgin Area School District U-46 officials are reporting a rise in student referrals for bad behavior in school over the last two years.
Overall student referrals for behavioral infractions at the state's second-largest school district increased from 34,939 in 2017-18 to 38,574 in 2018-19, and is on track to stay the same this school year, according to a district report on school culture and climate.
Defiance and disrespect of authority figures continues to be the top disciplinary offense -- representing 18,152 referrals in 2017-18, 20,922 referrals in 2018-19 and 10,215 referrals so far this year. Referrals involving physical offenses have risen from 7,394 in 2017-18 to 8,016 in 2018-19, and 4,468 this year.
To tackle the problem, officials have been using more restorative interventions than punitive measures. One such online tool, Third Millennium, teaches students in sixth through 12th grades strategies for conflict mediation and resolution.
It's a new emphasis for a service that provides schools with prevention and intervention courses for alcohol, marijuana, nicotine/vaping, illicit and prescription drug use, trafficking, shoplifting, bullying, domestic and partner violence, sexual assault and sexting.
"It teaches kids about their own behavior ... how to work a situation differently ... alternate strategies of conflict resolution," said John Heiderscheidt, U-46 director of school safety and culture. "Now, we are going to be using it as an intervention for students more often in situations where defiance and disrespect (occur)."
More than 180 students took the conflict resolution course in the first semester of this school year. They can access the online program at home or during in-school suspension.
"At the end of the school year, we are going to take a look at the data to see how it affected student recidivism," Heiderscheidt said. "There's typically a relational issue going on that would lead to that defiance and disrespect."
Other techniques to mend student-teacher bonds include using mentoring, coaching and restorative circles aimed at helping students understand the harm they caused and creating a plan for repairing it. Earlier this school year, all secondary school administrators were trained in restorative practices.
Officials also have been training administrators, teachers and staff districtwide on cultural competency, de-escalation tactics, trauma-informed practices, social-emotional learning, and dealing with mental health crises.
Data shows black, Latino and multiracial students continue to be disproportionality represented in discipline referrals. Black students make up roughly 6% of the district's overall population of more than 38,000 students and about one-fourth of all discipline referrals. Latino students make up nearly 55% of the student population and roughly 49% of all referrals.
U-46 revised its student code of conduct three years ago to address this disproportionality.
"We have seen an impact in the use of out-of-school suspensions," Heiderscheidt said.
Previously, the average number of out-of-school suspension days for black students was significantly higher than Latino and white students, but now that is leveling off, he added.
Most referrals are seen in ninth grade -- 5,410 so far this school year -- which typically is a difficult transition year for students.
This year, U-46 is trying out having an administrator assigned to freshman success at Streamwood High School to help students over the hump.
Adding counselors in middle schools, early career exploration for eighth-graders, and creating new high school pathways programs promoting smaller learning communities are part of the strategy to help freshmen students be successful.
"That ninth grade jump is indicative of a disengagement from the school environment," said Robin Barraza, coordinator of student discipline and alternative school options. "Kids have more freedom, less supervision and more responsibility. Ensuring that we are providing them enough support so that they can grow into that responsibility and be able to handle it and have better outcomes during that ninth-grade year is absolutely our goal."