Policies that reflect a zero-tolerance mindset do not sit well with us. In the world we live in every day, there are all kinds of complexity, lots of room for nuance, and the predominant color is grey. We imagine that is also the case in Forest Park’s District 91 schools where earnest teachers and administrators do their best to sort out complicated issues related to discipline and fairness.

In our reporting this week, the Review examines the number of school suspensions handed out by Forest Park’s elementary and middle schools and the relative percentage of those suspensions broken down by race. We are not stunned that, in a district where a majority of students are African American, a much higher percentage of suspensions are meted out to black students. 

We would suggest there are a range of factors that make this the case. A minority of African American students are actively badly behaved. The superintendent, who lamely declined to speak to the Review, even as his principals offered thoughtful and complex responses, alludes to that fact. We’d suggest that, in a district with a heavy percentage of veteran white teachers, some conscious and subconscious racism remains a factor. And we will be clear in saying that this issue plays out in school districts across America.

We’ve applauded D91 and other government bodies in Forest Park for enthusiastically and determinedly adopting the PBIS (the Positive Behavior Intervention System) model. That attempt at heightening sensitivity confuses us when, in a sidebar to our main story, we report on the suspension of a second-grader for an insensitive remark with racial aspects made to a classmate. Surely this was a moment meant for a good talk, for involving parents and teachers and students around a table. It seems absurd to quote Section C of Level III of the district’s misconduct policy to a second-grader.

This is all complicated. We give D91 and its staff a large benefit of the doubt in doing their best. But this should be a teachable moment for the district as well as the second-grader.

 Bringing PADS Forward

Rebranding a nonprofit agency sometimes seems like the vanity project of a board chair or executive director. But there are times when it is a necessary effort to reflect the dynamic growth in mission that an agency has tackled and accomplished. Surely that is the case as West Suburban PADS becomes Housing Forward.

Nearly a quarter-century ago, activists from Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park saw the fundamental need for the homeless to have shelter and food, to bring them inside during the nine long months of harsh weather. It was pads on the floors of a rotating network of generous local churches. It was meals prepared by dedicated volunteers.

But over time, PADS’ efforts grew to help those in the shelters transition from housing crisis to more stable accommodations. Today just 10 percent of the budget at PADS funds the overnight shelters. The rest goes to job training, working with landlords, creating wide-ranging housing options.

The new name reflects both the broad mission and the abiding optimism that this agency brings to the lives of people ready to lift themselves up and move themselves forward.