By Nona Tepper
The number of discipline referrals skyrocketed at Forest Park Middle School (FPMS) this past school year, while problem behavior by elementary school students saw a steep decline, according to a presentation of disciplinary data at a Board of Education meeting on June 12.
Forest Park District 91officials plan to analyze discipline data from the past year and adjust staffing to target particular behavioral issues among student groups.
"I think the ultimate goal throughout all of the teams is, when a behavior happens, to address that student or those couple individuals right then and there," Julie Hantson, assistant director of student services, said at the board meeting. "I feel like just having that conversation with teachers, like: How many warnings are you giving before you're sending them down? Is it by Friday, you're already frustrated with them? What can we do to make sure that they're the behaviors taught right then and there?"
During the 2017-18 school year, the number of in-school suspensions in Forest Park School District 91 increased to 40 from 15 the school year before. At the same time, the number of out-of-school suspensions decreased to nine from 33 the year before.
There were 774 total discipline referrals in the district during the 2017-18 school year, a number which has essentially remained steady over the past three years.
Most discipline referrals came from FPMS, which comprised 39 percent of all complaints. FPMS logged 305 referrals during the 2017-18 school year, up from 199 the year before. Complaints categorized as inappropriate language/disruption increased 296 percent year over year, with 99 referrals this school year.
Referrals for disrespect increased to 75, up 150 percent from the year prior. Charges of defiance also increased by 21 percent to 52 referrals for the school year. Eighth-graders were the most problematic group.
Hantson said one of the reasons for the middle school's "drastic increase" in bad behavior can be credited to a single student who has since been transferred out of the district.
Superintendent Louis Cavallo said the person in charge of teaching middle school students social and emotional skills was also out for nearly a semester after she was injured in a car accident.
"Part of life is not only learning academics, it's the social-emotional part of that learning, to cooperate and work with each other and find a solution, instead of creating a problem," board member Kim Rostello said at the meeting.
At Field-Stevenson Elementary School, the number of discipline referrals increased to 100 from 82 the school year before. Fourth-graders had the most referrals out of all the grades, with 38 total.
Incidents of minor disrespect increased 50 percent year over year, to 18 total referrals. Apart from that, physical aggression and minor disruption/defiance were the most common complaints against students. At the same time, Field-Stevenson also decreased its out-of-school suspension rate by 91 percent for the school year, with just one student facing that discipline as opposed to 11 the year before.
"It's kind of a lot of repeat offenders again, so we sat down as a team and we already started to plan for things they're going to focus on," Hantson said.
The number of disciplinary actions at Garfield Elementary School decreased to 201 from 294 during the school year before. Second-graders comprised the majority of those cases, with 107. The top three disciplinary issues at Garfield were minor disruption, disrespect and physical aggression.
Grant-White Elementary School also saw a decreased number of discipline referrals, with 152 last year, compared to 266 during 2016-17. Fourth-graders had the highest incidents of referrals, with 70 for the year. The most common reasons for referrals were minor disrespect, disruption and physical contact/aggression.
Meanwhile at Betsy Ross Elementary School, officials reported the lowest number of discipline referrals for at least three years, with just 16 for 2017-18 year, down from 45 the year before. Physical aggression, minor defiance and inappropriate language/disruption/disrespect were the most common reasons for referral.
"The only one they've had an increase for at Betsy was disruptive and disrespectful behavior, and most of those came from our special education classroom," Hantson said.
D91 marked its 10th anniversary using Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) this year, a disciplinary system which aims to make sure behavioral consequences include rewards for good behavior as well as punishments for bad, Cavallo said.
When the district launched the program, it received national recognition as the only district to involve the entire community, Cavallo said, with the police department issuing positive tickets to students displaying good behavior, offering rides to school with police, firefighters coming into the school for a day and much more.
Cavallo noted that disciplinary incidents at the middle school saw a "drastic decrease" when PBIS initially rolled out. A national PBIS official oversaw and ran meetings in the district.
Then, state funding for the program disappeared, and D91 and the village split the cost to hire someone as a PBIS consultant. That person eventually left for another job, and now the district relies on two Midwest PBIS officials to train staff.
Because D91 no longer has its own PBIS staff member, they've stopped meeting with community institutions like the Forest Park Public Library, Howard Mohr Community Center and Park District of Forest Park to see how PBIS enforcement is going.
"We were the first community-wide PBIS, where we sat down and said, 'Be safe, be respectful, be responsible looks different in different environments. What does 'Be safe' look like around the pool? What does 'Be safe' look like in a business?'" Cavallo said. "I think it'd be a great idea to celebrate 10 years and really talk about what we've accomplished, and also a reminder that we're not done yet."