Suspending Suspension

Last week’s PTA Advisory Committee meeting focused on high-level changes to the CPS Student Code of Conduct.

Yay for CPS for recognizing the need for social-emotional learning (or SEL). Yes, Illinois has state learning standards that address SEL, and yes, Illinois PTA passed a 2009 resolution to highlight and promote the need for SEL (and in 2013, held a PTA workshop on the topic). But I’ll count Kiwasha Williams-Ford’s presentation of revisions to the SCC to the PTA Advisory Committee meeting last week as a victory in the march toward improving the lives of all students.

Ms. Williams-Ford is one of the principal authors of the revised SCC, working in the department of student adjudication at CPS. On September 17th, she directed our group to read the document’s purpose statement:

The CPS SCC supports our schools in maintaining safe, nurturing, participatory and productive learning environments. In order to maximize learning time and promote positive behaviors, every school must establish multi-tiered systems of support for students’ social, emotional and behavioral needs [snipped content] … all disciplinary responses must be applied respectfully, fairly, consistently, and protect students’ rights to instructional time whenever possible. 

I do kind of like the sound of that. Of course my first question was if our financially beleaguered district would have the funds to provide the wraparound services or support resources that it needs for SEL. Unfortunately not, came the answer back. I walked out of this advisory meeting with even more respect and admiration for CPS teachers.

But as Ms. Williams-Ford’s presentation gave way to deeper understanding of the changes to, and intent behind, the SCC, I started to feel good about the policy as she laid it out for us. The Central Office does employ a fair number of really smart people with good intentions. The critical thinking in response to CPS is important, but so too is recognizing when the bureaucratic behemoth appears to have heard its stakeholder community.

First, Williams-Ford said, her office looked at the number of suspensions and expulsions happening at CPS, with an eye toward their reduction. The end game of this is not, unfortunately, to reduce the number of “alternative schools” within the district’s portfolio. On its face, the strategy seems rooted in improving student performance and academic achievement. But as presented to us by Ms. Williams-Ford, it really does seem like an attempt to tip the imbalance of suspensions and expulsions along race and class lines back to a more reasonable keel. From the presentation:

If students aren’t in the classroom, they miss instructional time… [and] attendance predicts graduation rate better than test scores…[and] punitive responses are not as effective as improving school climate and changing behavior. 

For the reader following along at home, these are pretty much the conclusions that CPS head of security Jadine Chou shared with the PTA Advisory Committee when she presented to us last year.

We recognize that our responses to misbehavior can be more instructive and restorative — to keep students in the classroom and to help them modify their behavior and build the skills needed for success. 

So concludes the first slide of the presentation. A perfect set up for the department’s plan of action, which includes six points. The first of these is / was revising the SCC, which began, she said in February 2014 with stakeholder engagement. From the presentation, engaging stakeholders included:

  • 2 focus groups with 42 school staff (deans, principals, teachers, counselors, social workers)
  • CTU leadership
  • BBB’s Principals’ Advisory Group
  • Network chiefs and deputies
  • Citywide collaborative (Project NIA, Mikva, VOYCE, COFI, CCSR, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Illinois Safe Schools)
  • CPS departments (Early Childhood Education, Safety & Security, ODLSS, Law and Labor Relations)
  • Community forums in each of three areas of city (north, south, and west)
  • Student focus groups through BBB’s Student Advisory Council and citywide collaborative members 

The upshot of these conversations explain the four major areas of improvement of the SCC: simplify policy language to improve accessibility; limit the use of out-of-school suspensions and emphasize restorative approach; improve the specificity, appropriateness, and application of behavior codes; expand options for administrators for most serious behaviors.

For revision one, simplifying policy language to improve accessibility, most of the work concerns the language of the SCC itself. It codifies the specific inappropriate behaviors of students into groups and ranks them in terms of degree of disruption to the learning environment. It also asks teacher/school staff and parents to share equally in promoting expected acceptable standards of conduct by students. And perhaps most importantly, it gives them a single point of contact within the central office for them to express concerns or ask questions. That number is 553-FACE. Finally, revision one included the development of a 70-page administrators guide to implementing the SCC by the Office of SEL as well as an implementation guide for community-based organizations.

Revision two focuses on dialing back the punitive nature of the SCC and focusing instead on maximizing instructional time, by limiting out-of-school suspensions and by emphasizing the restorative approach. It:

  • Provides clear “last resort” criteria for assigning out-of-school suspensions for 3rd-12th grade students: endangering others by being at school or extreme interruption to others’ school participation and all prior interventions have been used.
  • Prohibits suspensions for K-2nd grade students with the exception of extreme behavior that presents imminent danger and that also meets the trifecta of notification/approval requirements. [There have been 1500-2000 suspensions of PK-2nd grade students in the data year used by CPS (2012-2013 or 2013-2014, I can’t remember). Yikes!]
  • Removes out-of-school suspension as an available consequence for minor misconduct. [This came out of student meetings.]
  • Requires administrators to develop a transition plan to support students if they are suspended for 3 or more days. [The transition plan must be shared with the parent.]
  •  Prohibits punitive group punishments, including silent lunches. [Point to share with some folks at my school; The Boy and The Girl have each reported this issue.]
  • Ensures students’ and parents’ rights to receive written notice before a suspension occurs. 

Revision three gets to the root of language within the SCC, clarifying behavior problems and the appropriate responses for each:

  • Rewords behaviors to increase specificity and appropriateness of behavior codes, for example 1-6 persistent tardiness becomes 3 or more incidents/semester or 3-5 persistent group 1 and 2 behaviors become 2nd or more documented violation
  • Differentiates between social cell phone use and disruptive cell phone use. [This is one of the most misused issues in the previous SCC.] Reclassifies unauthorized cell phone use from a group 3 to a group 1 behavior and clarifies what disruptive use of a cell phone is [like using it to call people to come to the school for a fight].
  • Removes vague 5-5 code “persistent defiance.”

Finally, revision four expands options for administrators to address the most serious behaviors:

  • Removes group 6 mandatory expulsion request for students younger than 6th grade. The exception to this is for weapons-related offenses. [This allows for administrators to consider the child’s intent.]
  • Allows referral of students to district-level intervention program, SMART, in lieu of expulsion and before an expulsion hearing, for group 5 or 6 behaviors.
  • Gives administrators greater discretion in situations during which police may be called. [Takes out the 2013-2014 SCC requirements around when police must be called to the school.] 

Williams-Ford said that she recognized that the district could not simply change the SCC without preparing principals, teachers, and support resources to implement this approach to student conduct and discipline. As part of the revisions, CPS has developed and begun implementing a professional development plan. It includes both an overview of objectives and identification of and targeted PD for various audiences. In the first category, she provided the following information:

CPS must support capacity-building in a range of school-based strategies, such as prevention, intervention and alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion. 

In the second, she noted that the district had developed or targeted PD for network leaders, school leaders, teachers, clinicians, safety and security, and FACE staff. Required PD included school leader PD on all SCC and supportive discipline practices, sensitivity training for all staff and students, restorative practices and de-escalation strategies for security and FACE staff, and biweekly network PD and SEL planning. In addition, the district has targeted PD for high-need schools using network recommendations, and various topics on-demand.

There was more that she covered about alternative education programs and charter schools, but this post is already really long so I am going to write about that in a separate post.

One thought on “Suspending Suspension

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s