District 65 reflects on 2021-22 school year, discusses disproportionately high suspension rates for Black students


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie School School District 65 Education Center at 1500 McDaniel Ave. During Monday’s meeting, district representatives presented statistics on suspensions and disciplinary behaviors during the school year.

Yiming Fu, Managing Editor

Many Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members called for centering student voices during Monday’s board meeting to plan for the future following a “difficult year” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent reports of racist hate messages and student altercations at Haven Middle School. 

The meeting began with speeches from the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee, a group of students Superintendent Devon Horton called “so bright, you’ve got to wear shades.” 

The committee is made up of middle school and elementary school students across the district who were selected for their leadership traits and contributions to the school community. Eight members spoke Monday, addressing topics ranging from the need for gender-neutral bathrooms and accessible ramps, to support for greater inclusion of Black history in history curriculums.

“I got to make changes that impact the schools and future students for the better,” a Washington Elementary School fourth grader said. “It was also a great experience, and they got to hear many different ideas and opinions overall.” 

Elijah Palmer, the district’s dean of culture and climate, and Donna Cross, the director of multi-tiered systems of support and emotional learning, presented statistics on suspensions and disciplinary behaviors during the school year.

District 65 handed out 139 out-of-school suspensions during the 2021-22 school year. Of the suspensions, 62 were given to Black students, 14 to Hispanic students and 12 to white students. About 25% of District 65 students are Black.

“I do find it really troubling to see the racial predictability in how children are excluded from educational opportunities,” board member Anya Tanyavutti said.

Tanyavutti asked if there were trends of over-documenting at schools, particularly at Haven, which saw the most behavioral referrals in Branching Minds, the district’s digital log. She also asked what support is being offered to create a positive feedback loop that will help students. 

Tanyavutti also raised concerns about students of color feeling like they didn’t belong at District 65 schools as a result of being over-disciplined in front of their peers. She pointed to data from another presentation during the meeting, which found that only 30% of District 65 students felt “engaged” this spring, compared to 38% of students in fall 2020 and 37% of students in fall 2021.

“When I see these kinds of discipline numbers, I see hostility, I see harm,” Tanyavutti said. “I see rejection for kids. And so what’s our intervention plan to stop that harm?”

Following physical altercations at Haven this spring, parents and teachers demanded further widespread use of restorative practices and deescalation education at an April District 65 Board of Education meeting

Palmer said during the April meeting that the district is working with the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy to bring restorative-justice practices to District 65.

In April, Horton said Cross and Palmer are working closely with staff to implement trainings at four schools. The schools’ leadership and climate teams will attend a two-day intensive workshop before the next school year, Horton said, and the entire staff will attend four workshops and three asynchronous sessions throughout the year.

Angel Turner, assistant superintendent of schools, said on Monday that the district has also implemented “administrative clinics” where school leaders can drop in for training and development over the summer. Some principals will be able to participate optionally, while other principals will be mandated to attend at the district’s discretion. 

In a debrief with Haven parents before Monday’s meeting, Turner said the group discussed ways to improve the school climate and center the most important stakeholders. 

“Student voice will definitely be taken into consideration,” Turner said, “because honestly, in my opinion, they were the most impacted this year by a lot of adult decisions and actions.”

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