The data is somewhat old, but it offers evidence of African-American students in the DeForest Area School District being suspended at a disproportionally higher percentage rate than students of other races.

At least that was the case during the 2018-19 school year.

“This is an area we’re very focused on,” said Superintendent Eric Runez. “We view it as a very important area.”

The findings were revealed at the school board meeting Monday, June 22, in a report on the district’s learning environment. The report indicated the district was compliant with its indicators as a whole, with one exception. That had to do with the disparity in suspensions for African-American students, compared to others.

Black students made up 2.8 percent of the total enrollment in the district in 2018-19. Data from the 2018-19 school year shows that Black students received 13 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and 16.7 percent of all in-school suspensions.

“To be naturally proportionate, those numbers should be closer to 2.8,” said Pete Wilson, the district’s director of administrative services.

School Board President Jan Berg said she appreciated staff’s honesty in noting its noncompliance, especially considering the sensitivity of the subject.

“It warrants our attention,” said Berg.

Some school board members wondered why the data came from the 2018-19 school year. Runez noted that it’s always a year behind.

“It’ll always seem old,” said Runez. “It’s just the nature of it.”

A superintendent summary statement included in the report noted, “The evidence reflects a suspension rate that is not naturally proportionate with the enrollment percentage for African-American students.”

The statement went on to say that the district is “disappointed, but not surprised by this data,” as this area will continue to be a focus for resources and professional development by staff.

Overall, the report noted that the superintendent has maintained a climate featuring support and encouragement for high student achievement. Evidence of that came from a student survey that measured student connectedness, drive, citizenship, preparation, social and emotional aptitude, wellness and academic and career planning.

The area of noncompliance had to do with discipline. While 100 percent of high school and middle school parents acknowledged receipt of student discipline policies and procedures, included in the student and parent handbook.

Also, 100 percent of students, parents and guardians were notified via letter for any out of school suspension.

With regard to suspensions, there were 192 incidents in 2018-19 leading to out-of-school suspensions involving 92 students. There were 127 in-school suspensions for 68 students. Total enrollment for that school year was 3,807. So, out of the total student population, 2.4 percent received out-of-school suspensions and 1.8 percent received in in-school suspensions.

White students accounted for 3,144 of the total enrollment, and 65 were involved in 121 out-of-school incidents (2.1 percent), with 47 white students receiving in-school suspension for 84 incidents (1.5 percent).

Comparatively, there were 108 students enrolled in the DeForest district in 2018-19, with 29 out-of-school suspensions incidents involving 14 Black students. With regard to in-school suspensions, there were 18 incidents involving 18 Black students.

Dr. Sarah Totten, director of student services, said the leadership team working on this area has discussed root causes and looked at implicit biases that may have led to the disproportionality.

Another area of discipline that was discussed was pre-expulsions. The report indicated that there were 37 pre-expulsions conducted during the 2018-19 school year, with one appeal. It also noted that 100 percent of the student discipline referrals for expulsion were conducted with appropriate due process, and that there was one expulsion in 2018-19.

Totten talked about alternatives to exclusionary actions, such as expulsion. One gave both the student and teacher a chance to share their sides of the story.

“The goal is to restore relationships and to see what an appropriate response should be,” said Totten.

Wilson said the number of pre-expulsions was significantly higher than usual due to alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) concerns. Wilson indicated efforts are being made to head off AODA problems before they become bigger.

“We want to catch them at the top of the hill, rather than the bottom of the hill, so to speak,” said Wilson.

Also addressed in the report, there were no incidents of corporal punishment in the district in 2018-19.

The board did express an interest in allocating funds toward professional development in areas relating to discipline. Runez had said the district might otherwise “struggle to find dollars” for it, considering the COVID-19 situation and its impact on school finances.

Student engagement does impact student behavior and discipline, according to the report. Targeted professional development aimed at improving student engagement with better instructional practices is something district staff wants, but cost is an issue.

The administration is considering taking part in a regional collaboration through the National Equity Project, which offers professional development opportunities, resources, support for the district’s equity work and a network for collaboration. However, the cost to join is $30,000. It could be difficult to allocate that money with the increasing costs of reopening the school and COVID-19.

Administrators are taking action to address inequity in discipline. Studying a student engagement survey will help inform the district’s improvement efforts in this area. They district also continues to make focusing on equity to address disproportionality a priority. Preventative and proactive measures to address behavioral concerns, including training in restorative practices for staff, is also going on, as are educational efforts in the area of AODA.

Another part of the report on the learning environment had to do with employee complaints. There were 21 such complaints recorded in 2018-19. Each was resolved following an appropriate investigation, according to the report.

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Virtual home schooling is looking better and better everyday.

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