By Nona Tepper
During the 2017-18 school year, the number of in-school and out-of-school suspensions drastically decreased at Proviso East High School compared to the year before, according to information obtained by the Forest Park Review through a Freedom of Information Act request. The number of out-of-school suspensions also decreased at Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA).
"When students engage in a behavior infraction, the function and the cause of the behavior are considered when determining the best intervention or consequence," Nicole Howard, assistant superintendent of academics and student and family services, said in a statement. "This reduces the reliance on harsher consequences like suspension."
Last school year, 171 students at Proviso East were charged with 249 total in-school suspensions, down 62 percent from the 648 issued the school year before. Students spent about 246 days in in-school suspension during the 2017-2018 school year. The most common reason students faced in-school suspension was "disruptive behavior," like talking too much in class, with 71 discipline referrals issued for the charge.
When it comes to out-of-school suspensions, 101 students faced 123 total out-of-school suspensions, down 4 percent from the school year before. Proviso East students spent nearly 226 days in out-of-school suspension. The most common reason students faced out-of-school-suspension was "fighting," with 60 discipline referrals issued for the charge during the school year.
One student was expelled from Proviso East last school year, while no students faced expulsion the year before. The district said it "did not have details right now" regarding the expulsion.
"Only the most egregious behaviors can result in an expulsion," Howard said in her statement. Students can be expelled for bringing firearms, knives, or any type of weapon to school or a school-sponsored event, according to the Illinois School Code.
At PMSA, six students were charged with out-of-school suspensions last year, spending 17 total days outside school. The most common reason was drug use and possession, with three counts of this type issued. The district does not define alcohol as a drug.
No in-school suspensions were issued.
"Throughout the year, restorative practices are ongoing," Bessie Karvelas, principal at PMSA, said in a statement. "We give our students social-emotional support; parental conferences are also ongoing. Counselors and administrators continually meet with students to reinforce supports that have been put in place."
Schools across Proviso High Schools District 209 operate on a restorative justice theory of discipline, which aims to teach students to resolve their problems through mediation, reflection and agreements. If students get in a shouting match in a hallway, for example, peers are given the opportunity to work out their issues in a "peace circle," which involves the parties sitting in a circle with a mediator who gets them to talk about the incident, why it happened and how it can be fixed.
"This gives students the opportunity to reflect on, and take ownership of, their behaviors, understand why it was inappropriate, and take actions to make things right," Howard said in the statement. "If the students were instead just given a suspension, they would have returned to school with the same issues and likely escalated their conflict to a physical level."
As a way to further decrease the number of discipline incidents at Proviso East and PMSA this year, staff are building a three-tiered system of intervention and supports, with the tiers essentially being prevention, group support, and individual support. Staff are also being trained to deal with behavioral issues the same way across schools, in an effort to set clear expectations and support the development of positive behavior. "This will really get after some of those disruptive behaviors like talking too much in class or walking around the class disrupting other students," Howard said in her statement.
"The Office of Academics," she added, "has invested in interventionists and programs designed to help students develop good decision-making skills and healthy habits of mind. This approach has kept more students engaged in school, thereby decreasing the number of overall infractions."