HomeEducationDiscipline discussed at School Board Workshop: “We don’t have enough people in the trenches”
Discipline discussed at School Board Workshop: “We don’t have enough people in the trenches”
November 3, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the November 2 Alachua County School Board Workshop, Dr. Anntwanique Edwards, Chief of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement for Alachua County Public Schools, presented the Student Behavior Support Plan to the board.
Edwards told the board that the main problem they’ve identified is that the rate of out-of-school suspensions (OSS) has doubled since before the pandemic and that multi-factor influences make the problem difficult to manage with limited staff. She presented two goals to the board: 1) Reduce overall suspensions, and 2) Reduce disproportionality in suspensions by race.
In the 2018-19 school year, there were 1,688 out-of-school suspensions, compared to 4,374 in the 2021-22 school year. Edwards said a goal of reducing overall suspensions by 10% has already been missed, as they already have more students with out-of-school suspensions than during the first quarter last year. The district has had 2,543 OSS days in the first quarter, as compared to 10,942 suspension days in the full 2021-22 school year.
Another goal is to reduce disproportionality of referrals for African American students and students with disabilities, as compared to their white counterparts; Edward emphasized that the intention is not to achieve this by writing fewer referrals but rather by implementing “research-based best practices.”
The school district’s yearly Action Plan for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), developed last May, calls for a reduction in the percentage of suspension incidents received by African American students by 10% (from 75% of all suspension incidents to 65% of all suspension incidents), which would be a reduction of 320 incidents compared to May 2022 totals. The Action Plan also calls for a reduction of suspension incidents received by students with disabilities by 10% from 28% of all suspensions to 18% of all suspensions, which would be a reduction of 118 incidents from 2022 levels. Approximately 14% of students have documented disabilities, and 70% of those students are African American; the overall percentage of African American students was not provided.
Edwards recommended development of new processes to streamline the tracking of disciplinary issues and recommended funding a district-level full-time PBIS Coordinator and behavior coaches who would be “dedicated to school climate/culture/culturally responsive environments.” She also recommended that school personnel implement Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) procedures “in a way that is responsive to students’ cultures” and provide opportunities “to address staff mindset regarding ‘one size fits all’ discpline, traditional beliefs about ‘this is what we do for this behavior.'”
Key strategies for achieving these goals included developing Resource Guides for staff that are “responsive to students’ cultures. Ensure administrator and teacher mindsets are addressed as well.” The guides will include “restorative options” to be used by deans and teachers. Assistant Principals are currently reading the book Don’t Suspend Me!by Jessica Hannigan and John Hannigan, and the same book study is planned for Deans. The district is also working on training opportunities for faculty and staff.
Following the presentation, Alachua County Education Association President Carmen Ward said that the rate of out-of-school suspensions is not the problem but is instead a symptom of the “extreme violent behavior” that school employees are dealing with.
School Board Member Leanetta McNealy was frustrated at the lack of specific examples in the presentation and told Edwards, “Until the calls and emails stop, I’m not going to be satisfied… Words are beautiful; I’m looking for action.”
Edwards responded that she would need more funding and staff to implement the recommendations: “We don’t have enough people in the trenches… We do not have enough bodies to do the work that is necessary to do the change that we need.”
Elementary Teacher Jennifer Anhalt represented the Teacher Advisory Committee at the workshop, and she said, “The best part of this plan, from a teacher’s perspective, is having support in every school for in-school suspension. If you want to lower out-of-school suspension, you have to change behavior through social and emotional learning, you have to build character, you have to provide the opportunities for people at the school to do that. It can’t always be the teachers. You may need more people at the school to do that.”
Anhalt continued, “Second thing is to have a place for these kids to go that is not just walking around the school or hanging out or sleeping during their in-school suspension. They need to have a place with trained personnel to a)re-teach, b) do some restorative practices, c) do some behavior character-building, and most importantly, give them some academic time, also. We’re here to train these children to be citizens… These are the kids that are the toughest kids in our schools; we all know that. It will take money. I am so excited that our board wants to see action… The only way to do that is to have boots on the ground in every single school.”
Anhalt’s remarks (about 4 minutes) can be viewed here.
Vice Chair Tina Certain, who was chairing the meeting in Chair Robert Hyatt’s absence, said the district has American Rescue Plan funds that could be used in the short term, but the district is having trouble filling its current openings. She said she would favor using that funding source and posting jobs to help with discipline in the schools.
Certain asked Edwards to let the board know if they could help with any actionable steps: “What I don’t want to happen is that we had this nice presentation… and then it be left until the uproar comes again.” She said she would favor hiring more employees in the schools rather than hiring district-level employees, and she favored providing more training to teachers as soon as possible. She also pointed out that the presentation didn’t address school bus discipline issues and added, “Financially, we can’t hire an aide to be on 110 routes… even if we could find 110 people to be aides.” She said, “The areas that are hotspots need immediate attention right now, and I didn’t hear that in the presentation.”
Since the meeting was a workshop, the board took no action.
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