New Illinois legislation encourages South to re-evaluate discipline

Katie Cavender, co-news editor

A new law regarding student discipline will go into effect Sept. 15, changing requirements for administrators with regards to suspensions and expulsions.

The law, entitled Public Act 99-456, states that school officials must limit the number and duration of suspensions and expulsions “to the greatest extent possible.” It explicitly prohibits zero-tolerance policies that would require suspension or expulsion and the use of monetary fees as a consequence for behavior. The law also requires schools to continue efforts to provide teachers with professional development opportunities that would teach them about the negative effects of school exclusion punishment.

According to Principal Lauren Fagel, the law is not necessarily designed for schools like South because South follows a policy of reviewing an individual student’s case before administering punishment.

“In some places, there are automatic decisions made […] for schools to have [predetermined punishments for certain behavior],” Fagel said. “One thing [the law is] saying is that you can’t have a policy that says ‘If you do this, then this happens’ because that’s not giving the dean or the administrator the chance to look at the whole student.”

According to Fagel, South’s policies already align with this aspect of the law. Dean Ronald Bean agrees with Fagel in that South will not have to make many changes in order to comply with the new law.

“I think there will be some minor adjustments that we need to make, […] but [in terms of] the goal of the law and the expectations of the law, I think we’re in a good position based on how we already do discipline,” Bean said.

According to Fagel, administrators will also be required to provide written explanations for school-exclusion punishment under the new law, forcing the administration to reflectively consider each case even further than they already do. This will be the main change that South must make in order to follow the new regulations.

“This [requirement]  is really interesting because I think a lot of out-of-school suspension is actually about sending a message to other kids,” Fagel said. “[For example,] if [a student] is caught with pot in school, and they’re back the next day, what’s everyone going to think?”

Fagel believes that in certain cases, school exclusion can actually be more detrimental to a student and that it could encourage them to continue their negative behavior outside of a school setting.

“I’ve always struggled with out-of-school suspensions because it usually doesn’t accomplish the goal,” Fagel said. “And it doesn’t [always] deter other people.”

Senior Ted Steger agrees with this sentiment, and believes that an increased usage of in-school suspensions would be more beneficial to students that would otherwise be suspended from school. According to Steger, a system where a student spends their day talking with social workers and working with tutors would better help to deter the student’s negative behavior and encourage them to keep up with school work.

“I think taking a student out of an educational environment is a very backwards way of dealing with the problem,” Steger said. “[…] I’ve seen kids who have gotten in this sort of [cycle] where they get suspended, and then they’re out of school, and then they’re behind. And because they’re behind, they don’t feel like they should give as much effort towards school in the future because they’re behind, and they end up… acting out more, and then they get suspended again.”

Fagel believes that although the law does not require South to dramatically alter policies already in place, it will require administration to reflect on the effect of the way punishment is handled. This could potentially lead to the increase of in-school suspension, among other options to reduce school exclusion discipline.

“I think it makes schools like us rethink our discipline policies, which I think is a really healthy practice,” Fagel said.