117 Suspension numbers are alarming to some; superintendent responds

By Gary Scott on January 9, 2016 at 9:32am

End-of-the-year statistics released by the state regarding suspensions have some local education advocates concerned.

Illinois Special Education Coalition chairperson Bev Johns appeared on “What’s On Your Mind?” on WLDS 1180 this week to talk about the numbers released by the Illinois Board of Education.

They indicate that District 117 had 576 suspensions in 2015 from kindergarten to 12th grade, which Johns says is too high.

Johns points to recent legislation signed by Governor Bruce Rauner that aims to change suspension policies for some school districts.

“There are a number of pieces of the legislation, but I think the biggest point is that it clearly limits the number of suspensions that school districts can give to students for reasons other than a threat to safety or disruption,” says Johns.

“We know that some students misbehave in school, I spent my entire career and still do work with a lot of children with behavior problems. They’re there. But what we know is, suspending them from school isn’t working, so we have to look at proactive approaches.”

But District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says the extreme behaviors school districts are facing currently are providing more challenges for school districts than in the past.

Ptacek says he has working to provide more alternative education opportunities.

“[I’ve] been working with the [Regional Office of Education] about even potentially helping to expand some of our opportunities offered at Lafayette [School], because we know we’ve got issues we’ve got to address,” he says.

“But the one thing I always come back to and I always state, is that the vast majority of our taxpaying parents pay their taxes, go to work, send their kids to school, and expect the school to have a solid atmosphere focused on academics, and we owe it to them to protect that academic atmosphere,” Ptacek adds.

Ptacek thinks if the state is going to set further restrictions on school districts, then it should understand the increases costs that come along with those restrictions.

“With limited funds, that could potentially talk about cost-shifting from one set of services to a different set of services. We’re not in that position right now, that we would be talking about losing other services,” Ptacek says.

“But, if we start providing more social-emotional supports and more measures to prevent out-of-school suspensions and then we get a pension cost-shift- and they’re talking about the property tax freeze- and if there’s not a fix in our funding formula for districts such as Jacksonville, the only way we’d be able to provide those in the long run is to start cutting other services to students,” he continues.

Johns notes that District 117 doesn’t use “in-school suspensions” as a discipline tool, although Ptacek says that might change next year. Johns argues that for many students, out-of-school suspension is a reward.

“People jump to the conclusion that suspension is a punishment for bad behavior. They misbehave in school, they get kicked out of school, they get a vacation from school, and perhaps they didn’t want to be there in the first place. So, we just gave them what they wanted,” she says.

Ptacek concedes that out-of-school suspensions may serve as a motivator to misbehave, but says sometimes it’s a necessary tool to protect the educational environment of the school.

You can hear the full interviews with Johns and Ptacek on this topic below: