District 203 doubling down on equitable approaches to student discipline, behavior    

Students walking through hallway at District 203 school
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With a new school year on the horizon, Naperville School District 203 officials are honing in on a series of efforts to address student behavior referrals and curb the severity of disciplinary actions when issues do arise.

At District 203’s board of education meeting Aug. 7, administrators looked back — and ahead — at the sensitive topic in a report, “Student Behavior and Discipline Through an Equity Lens.”

“While it is accurate to say that our students overwhelmingly exhibit positive behaviors, this report is important, yet challenging, because it speaks to the times when there are behavioral concerns that escalate to the point of a disciplinary consequence being issued,” Chala Holland, assistant superintendent for administrative services/high schools, said.

Mirroring trends seen across the U.S. since the pandemic’s onset, District 203 staffers have been grappling with an increase in student discipline in recent school years, though the number and severity of data have shown improvement.

What the data says

On the whole, data from the past school year continued to indicate heightened incidents of student aggression, threats and refusal since the pandemic, though the information also reveals such occurrences receded this past school year.

The number of District 203 students receiving in-school or out-of-school suspensions decreased in the 2022-23 school year, compared to the year before.

As District 203 reverted to pre-pandemic protocols this past school year, total suspensions dropped to 377 total, districtwide, compared to 623 suspensions in the 2021-22 school year.

Suspensions have increasingly been viewed as a last resort in addressing discipline, Holland said of the data, and are used to mitigate classroom disruptions and, in more extreme cases, ensure schools are safe.

On the whole, Holland said, the data is encouraging, though she added, “There is a lot of work to do.”

One data point, indexing, student discipline data by demographics, indicates persistent disparities. Black students, for instance, are five times more likely to experience an in-school suspension and eight times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension.

Hispanic/Latinx, students with disabilities and students from economically disadvantaged homes also faced higher rates of in- and out-of-school suspensions, compared to students in other groups.

How equity fits into the analysis

Throughout the recent report, the word “equity” was used frequently, as District 203 officials emphasized their desire to meet students where they are at and give learners of all backgrounds the platform for success.

“We don’t have canned programs,” Jayne Willard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said. “We very much pride ourselves on being responsive to the student in front of us, knowing that all students might need something different.”

A number of goals are in place for the coming school year to meet the specific needs of District 203’s diverse student body, including multilingual instructional strategies and culturally responsive teaching and learning practices.

“Equity is the lens through which we are examining all of our efforts to examine student behaviors and disciplinary outcomes,” Holland said. “We are looking to reinstitute building-based equity teams to support efforts to address disparities, gaps and disproportionality associated with sex, disability, economic disadvantage and race and ethnicity.”

School Board gives its support

Members of District 203’s board of education echoed sentiments of more work being necessary, though there was an overarching sense of optimism throughout the meeting room as attention to the new school year gets underway.

“I’m super excited to see all of the interventions,” board member Donna Wandke said. “I know we’ve seen some movement in the data, and I can anticipate sitting here in a year or two from now and seeing the drastic change. We’re attacking this from every angle possible, and that’s really exciting.”

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