The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 29 (2016-17)

School Discipline Reform in Illinois: Creating Policies to Reduce the Use of Suspension and Expulsion
By Cassandra Black

Schools across the state began this school year with new policies and student handbooks in line with a new state law that restricts the use of exclusionary school discipline practices, like suspensions and expulsions.

Evidence of the Need for Change. School districts have frequently relied on exclusionary discipline practices to address behavioral concerns in the school setting. Nationwide, 2.8 million students in kindergarten through twelfth grade received one or more out of school suspensions during the 2013-14 school year.1 Research suggests that the majority of suspensions are for minor infractions of school rules such as class disruption, tardiness, and dress code violations.2

The frequency with which school districts impose expulsions and suspensions is concerning, as these practices are linked to a number of negative outcomes for students. Research shows a correlation between these practices and decreased academic achievement, increased likelihood of dropping out, substance abuse, and involvement with juvenile justice systems.3 Being suspended just once in ninth grade is correlated with a twofold increase in the likelihood of dropping out of school from 16% to 32%.4 Ironically, exclusionary disciplinary practices are also correlated with increased behavior problems.5 Additionally, students who are suspended or expelled may be unsupervised during school hours and cannot access many of the benefits of schools such as good teaching, adult mentorship, and positive peer interactions.6

In addition to the negative outcomes associated with exclusionary disciplinary practices, data indicates discipline disparities related to specific subgroups of students. For instance, nationwide, black students are 3.8 times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as their white peers.7 In Illinois, during the 2014-15 school year, black students represented 17.5% of the student population,8 yet represented 45% of the students who were subject to suspensions, expulsions, or transfers to alternative schools in lieu of another disciplinary action.9 It is important to note that the data are not explained by more serious or more frequent misbehavior by students of color.10

Students with disabilities are also disproportionately impacted by suspensions and expulsions.11 While students receiving special education services make up 12% of the nationwide total student population, they make up 20% of students receiving out-of-school suspension once, 25% of students receiving more than one out-of-school suspensions, and 19% of students expelled.12

In response to these alarming statistics, the US Department of Education (“USDOE”) and the Department of Justice (“USDOJ”) issued federal guidance to schools to address school discipline practices.13 In a Dear Colleague Letter issued on January 8, 2014, the USDOE and USDOJ remind districts of their responsibility to discipline students in a manner free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.14 Additionally, the USDOE and USDOJ encourage schools to utilize a more preventative approach to school discipline that focuses on school climate, use of evidence-based practices that comprehensively and proactively address social-emotional learning, training and professional development for school personnel, and appropriate use of law enforcement.15 Additionally, they encourage districts to emphasize positive interventions over exclusionary practices16 and collect and review disciplinary data to continue to refine disciplinary practices.17 The USDOE recently issued additional guidance on this topic as it relates to students with disabilities in a Dear Colleague Letter that was issued August 1, 2016.18 The USDOE reminds districts that while they have a right to implement disciplinary removals, they still have a responsibility to consider the need for behavioral supports as part of the student’s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) and a failure to do so may indicate that the IEP is not appropriately developed to ensure meaningful educational benefit or FAPE.19

Overview of SB 100. Also in response to these alarming statistics, and in alignment with federal guidance, the State of Illinois recently enacted Public Act 99-456, also known as SB 100.20 Under SB 100, districts are no longer able to use zero-tolerance policies requiring suspensions or expulsions for specific behaviors.21 Additionally, districts must “limit the duration of expulsions and suspensions to the greatest extent practicable,” and school officials must “consider forms of non-exclusionary discipline prior to using out-of-school suspensions or expulsions.”22 In alignment with prevention-oriented practices, districts must exhaust “appropriate and available behavioral and disciplinary interventions” prior to utilizing an out-of-school suspension of more than three days, an expulsion, or a disciplinary removal to an alternative school.23 In addition to demonstrating that other interventions have been exhausted, districts must demonstrate that “the student’s continuing presence in school would either (a) pose a threat to the safety of other students, staff, or members of the school community or (b) substantially disrupt, impede, or interfere with the operation of the school.”24

For students who are suspended out-of-school for more than four school days, districts are also required to provide “appropriate and available support services” while the student is suspended.25 School districts shall also create a “policy to facilitate the re-engagement of students who are suspended out-of-school, expelled, or returning from an alternative school setting.26 School districts are also required to develop a policy that provides suspended students with the “opportunity to make up work for equivalent academic credit.”27

Resources Available to Support Implementation. There are a variety of resources available to assist school districts with development and implementation of policies that comply with the law. The Illinois Association of School Boards (“IASB”) has created model school board policy language that is available by subscription through Policy Reference Education Subscription Services (“PRESS”).28 PRESS provides policy and procedure information and model language and is updated frequently based on changes in state and federal laws and regulations.

Also available through PRESS is a sample memorandum of understanding (MOU)29 between school districts and local law enforcement, as is encouraged under 105 ILCS 5/10-20.14(b). This sample MOU outlines both the school official’s role and law enforcement agency’s role in the school setting. This resource is free to school districts and available on IASB’s website.

The Transforming School Discipline Collaborative (“TSDC”) has also made available a model code of conduct that reflects compliance with SB 100 and best practices in school discipline procedures.30 In addition to the model code of conduct, the TSDC has created a number of resources for districts including a School District Self-Assessment Checklist, focusing on compliance with SB 100, as well as additional toolkits to assist districts in developing policies and procedures that are legally compliant and focused on best practices. TSDC also offers professional development to districts through Administrators’ demies.

The Illinois Principals Association (“IPA”) also has a model student handbook available by subscription that is aligned to PRESS and reflective of changes in state and federal law, including SB 100.31 IPA also offers professional development to districts on this topic through Administrators’ Academies.

Challenges and Questions. Although there are a variety of resources available to districts, there are also major challenges and questions that will need to be addressed. For instance, the law utilizes several terms such as “appropriate and available support services,”32 yet does not define what appropriate and available means, as this is to be determined by school authorities. Additionally, for suspensions longer than three days, expulsions, or removal to an alternative school, one consideration districts must make is whether the student’s “continuing presence in school would either (i) pose a threat to the safety of other students, staff or members of the community or (ii) substantially disrupt, impede, or interfere with the operation of the school.”33 While decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis, districts will need a systematic way to determine if a student poses a threat to others. School districts may need assistance with defining these terms and utilizing sound practices for making case-by-case decisions.

Additionally, we must determine the intersection of SB 100 with existing state and federal laws. For instance, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), school personnel may remove a student with a disability receiving special education services to an interim educational environment for up to 45 school days in cases where a student carries or possesses a weapon to or at school, knowingly possesses or uses illegal drugs or sells a controlled substance on school premises, or inflicts serious bodily injury while on school premises.34 Although federal law typically supersedes state law, the 45 day removal is not mandatory. With SB 100’s requirement to exhaust “appropriate and available behavioral and disciplinary interventions” prior to utilizing an out-of-school suspension of more than three days, an expulsion, or a disciplinary removal to an alternative school,35 a question could be raised as to whether utilizing a 45 day placement in an interim educational environment for a student with a disability could be considered discriminatory if students with a disability are subject to a 45 day placement and students without disabilities are not under SB 100.

Another consideration is the existing tension between state law and best practices with respect to student discipline. While the law does not explicitly address in-school-suspensions, it does require districts to limit exclusionary practices and take a proactive approach to discipline by requiring districts to exhaust “appropriate and available behavioral and disciplinary interventions” prior to utilizing an out-of-school suspension of more than three days, an expulsion, or a disciplinary removal to an alternative school.36 When implemented correctly, in-school-suspensions may be an opportunity for districts to utilize a more pro-active approach to discipline and may be considered an “appropriate and available behavioral and disciplinary intervention.” In-school-suspension can be used as an opportunity to allow students to take responsibility for their actions, learn more appropriate prosocial behaviors, and restore relationships with students or staff who were involved in the incident. At the same time, because in-school suspensions remove students from academic instruction, care must be taken by districts to ensure that the goal of the in-schoolsuspension is instructional and corrective of the underlying behaviors.37 Umoja,38 a non-profit organization that works with Chicago-area schools to help create family-school community partnerships to positively impact the social/emotional growth of students, utilizes a suspension model that’s based on the principles of Restorative Justice, with a focus on the goals mentioned above. Cyd Lash Academy, a therapeutic day school that is part of the Special Education District of Lake County, also provides an example of an alternative suspension model based on principles of restorative justice and cognitive behavioral therapy, called Building Bridges.39 These are two examples of frameworks for in-school-suspensions that align with the goal of teaching more appropriate replacement behaviors and comprehensively addressing students’ social/emotional and behavioral needs, and therefore are consistent with the goals of SB 100.

While these questions may be complex, it will be important to help school districts develop policies and procedures that are in compliance with SB 100, but that also reflect the spirit of the law in order to promote safe and proactive learning environments that encompass inclusive practices that address the needs of all students.

1. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Off. for Civ. Rts., 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection-A First Look 1, 3 (2016) http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/2013-14-first-look.pdf  [hereinafter U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Off. For Civ. Rts., Civil Rights Data Collection].
2. Daniel J. Losen & Tia Elena Martinez, “Out of School and Off Track: the Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools,” The Center for Civil Rights Remedies 1, 1 April 8, 2013 https://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/
federal-reports/out-of-school-and-off-track-the-overuse-of-suspensions-in-american-middle-andhigh-schools/OutofSchool-OffTrack_UCLA_4-8.pdf
3. U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline 1, 4 (Jan. 8, 2014) http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201401-title-vi.pdf  [hereinafter U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Dear Colleague Letter].
4. Losen, supra note 2 at 1.
5. U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Dear Colleague Letter, supra note 3 at 4.
6. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline i, ii (2014), http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/guiding-principles.pdf . [hereinafter U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Guiding Principles].
7. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Off. for Civ. Rts., Civil Rights Data Collection, supra note 1 at 3.
8. Illinois State Board of Education, “Illinois Report Card: 2014-15.” http://www.illinoisreportcard.com/State.aspx?source=StudentCharactieristics&source2=StudentDemographic&Stateid=IL
9. Illinois State Board of Education, “2015 End of Year School Discipline Report,” Oct. 2015, http://www.isbe.state.il.us/research/pdfs/eoy-rpts/2015/2015-eoy-student-discipline.pdf.
10. U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Dear Colleague Letter, supra note 3 at 4.
11. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Guiding Principles, supra note 6 at i.
12. Id.
13. U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Dear Colleague Letter, supra note 3.
14. Id at 1.
15. Id at appendix 2-3.
16. Id at appendix 6.
17.17 Id at appendix 7-8.
18. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Dear Colleague Letter on Ensuring Equity and Providing Behavioral Supports to Students with Disabilities (Aug. 1, 2016). http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/files/dcl-on-pbis-in-ieps--08-01-2016.pdf
19. Id. at 2-3.
20. Act effective September 15, 2016, Pub. Act 99-456
21. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/10-22.6(b-10).
22. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann 5/10-22.6 (b-5).
23. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann 5/10-22.6(b-20).
24. Id.
25. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann 5/10-22.6(b-25).
26.Id.
27. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann 5/10-22.6(b-30).
28. Illinois Association of School Boards, http://www.iasb.com/policy/ (last visited Aug. 4, 2016).
29. Illinois Association of School Boards, Memorandum of Understanding for School District & Local Law Enforcement Agency http://www.iasb.com/law/understanding.cfm (last visited Aug. 4, 2016).
30. Transforming School Discipline Collaborative, http://www.transformschooldiscipline.org/collaborative (last visited Aug. 4, 2016).
31. Illinois Principals Association, Online Model Student Handbook http://www.ilprincipals.org/resources/model-student-handbook  (last visited Aug. 4, 2016).
32. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann 5/10-22.6(b-25).
33. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann 5/10-22.6(b-20).
34. 34 C.F.R 300.530(g)(1)-(3).
35. 105 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann 5/10-22.6(b-20).
36. Id.
37. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Guiding Principles, supra note 6 at 12.
38. Umoja Student Development Corporation, http://www.umojacorporation.org/ (last visited Aug. 4,
2016).
39. Cyd Lash Academy, http://www.sedol.us/domain/118 (last visited Aug. 4, 2016).

Cassandra Black is a Director of Student Services in Mount Prospect School District 57 and a law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Ms. Black received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Augustana College, an Educational Specialist degree in school psychology from the University of Northern Colorado, and a Masters of Art degree in educational leadership from Roosevelt University.

 
 
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