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Illinois Governor Signs Sweeping School Discipline Bill Championed by Students

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Illinois districts are set to make dramatic changes in school discipline policies after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a sweeping bill that aims to making suspensions and expulsions a last resort in the state's schools.

Rauner signed SB 100, which won bipartisan support from state lawmakers, Monday evening. It was championed by students who argued that big changes would be necessary to drive down the use of exclusionary discipline and to reduce disproportionately high rates of discipline for students of color. 

VOYCE, or Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, has said that SB 100 "represents perhaps the most aggressive and comprehensive effort ever made by a state to address the 'school-to-prison pipeline.'"

chicagodiscipline.JPGIn pressing for policy change, advocates cited discipline rates in Chicago schools. Although black students represented 41.3 percent of the district's enrollment in the 2011-12 school year, they represented 69.3 percent of students who were suspended and 71 percent of students who were expelled, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

Among the new law's biggest changes:

"Out-of-school suspensions of longer than 3 days, expulsions, and disciplinary removals to alternative schools may be used only if other appropriate and available behavioral and disciplinary interventions have been exhausted and the student's continuing presence in school would either (i) pose a threat to the safety of other students, staff, or members of the school community or (ii) substantially disrupt, impede, or interfere with the operation of the school."

Schools, including charter schools, will have until Sept. 15, 2016 to update their discipline policies in compliance with the law, though many are expected to do so sooner.

Among the law's other requirements:

  • Districts may not adopt "zero tolerance policies" that require suspensions or expulsions for certain offenses, limiting the discretion of school-level leaders;
  • Schools must provide detailed rationale when suspending students and detail alternatives they explored before opting to remove a student from the classroom;
  • Districts must create policies "to facilitate the re-engagement of students who are suspended out-of-school, expelled, or returning from an alternate school setting;"
  • School districts "shall make reasonable efforts to provide ongoing professional development to teachers, administrators, school board members, school resource officers, and staff on the adverse consequences of school exclusion and justice-system involvement, effective classroom management strategies, culturally responsive discipline, and developmentally appropriate disciplinary methods that promote positive and healthy school climates;"
  • Fines and fees can't be used as disciplinary consequences for students; and
  • School officials can't encourage students to drop out for behavioral or academic reasons, a practice student advocates refer to as "counseling out."

School discipline changes pushed by Obama administration

SB 100 is of some interest because Illinois is the home of both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The Obama administration, led by Duncan and Justice Department officials, have pushed for schools to change school discipline approaches to rely less on classroom removals and to drive down racial disparities in suspension and expulsion rates.

As regular Rules for Engagement readers know well, some conservative lawmakers and education policy folks have criticized some of those efforts.

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