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District 65 board members evaluate drop in suspensions through equity lens

Superintendent Paul Goren speaks at a District 65 board meeting. The board discussed suspensions and a new equity assessment tool.

Superintendent Paul Goren speaks at a District 65 board meeting. The board discussed suspensions and a new equity assessment tool.

Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Superintendent Paul Goren speaks at a District 65 board meeting. The board discussed suspensions and a new equity assessment tool.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

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Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members evaluated new suspension practices with the racial equity impact assessment guide— a 10-step tool for addressing racial disparities.

On Monday night, the board discussed disciplinary procedures and the new equity framework at a policy committee meeting at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center. They introduced possible changes, which the board may take action on at their next meeting on March 19.

Since September 2014, District 65 policy has required that no student can be suspended more than five days without approval from the superintendent. The enactment of this policy was accompanied by a drop in suspensions days between 2014 and 2015, particularly for black students, according to a presentation Monday from the district’s office of special services. The average of over 25 suspension days per 100 black students changed to under 10 suspension days in the same sample size.

District 65 superintendent Paul Goren told The Daily the district has been transparent about suspension data, and noted teachers and administrators can gain valuable information by disaggregating the numbers based on gender and race. He said the district has undergone a “wide range” of reforms with a focus on equity.

“Let’s start by celebrating the work that we’ve engaged in as a board and as an administration around equity,” Goren said at the meeting.

Illinois state law forbids schools from implementing “zero-tolerance policies” that require administrators to expel or suspend students for non-criminal offenses. State law also states the “harshest form of discipline” can only be used if the student poses a threat to the school.

The board also discussed the equity assessment tool, a guide to examining the cause, purpose and impact of policy decisions. Vice president Anya Tanyavutti said leaders in the district should use the tool carefully and be more clear about what they mean by equity and inclusion.

“One of the things we kept going back and forward on was how to adopt a tool without it being tedious,” Tanyavutti said. “The goal is not to create busy work. … The goal is to exercise muscle that we thought we were exercising, but having some explicit questions in front of us shows us that we haven’t.”

Goren told The Daily the meaning of equity and inclusion was a longer conversation, but at its core, equity means providing services “so that all children can succeed.” He said services the district provides may not always be the same, as some children may need more support than others.

Board member Sergio Hernandez said suspension policies are closely tied to equity, and the district can use the equity assessment tool to address inherent biases teachers and administrators posses.

“I want to continue reviewing some of these policies proposed around suspension … thinking about the equity assessment tool,” Hernandez told The Daily. “What does that mean for children maybe viewed as acting irrational when in reality it might be something that might be an issue where we as educators or adults might have a certain bias?”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified District 65 superintendent Paul Goren in the caption. The Daily regrets the error.

Twitter: @caity_henderson