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Discipline discussed at School Board Workshop: “We don’t have enough people in the trenches”

Dr. Anntwanique Edwards presents the Student Behavior Support Plan on November 2

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.

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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.

  • Not enough parents in the household is what they should have addressed as the problem.

    The statistics speak for themselves, for people of color to deny that and try to blame other factors is ludicrous. The practices and habits that are being learned and promoted are the greatest contributors to the lack of respect and discipline within the educational environment. It’s no surprise teaching is not the “choice” of careers as it was before.

    More people of color are committing more crimes not only in the city/county but in the country. They may comprise a minority of the population but the crimes committed not only against businesses but against themselves are higher than other demographics.

    It starts at home. Try to have an honest, real discussion about that.

  • Yeah, it is ludicrous… parading out this overpaid person in a useless position to say we need to turn lead into gold, as if that’s possible and a non-crazy thing to say. Who are the juvenile delinquents in this town? The ones shooting up each other’s houses every week? I don’t think it’s a bunch of ‘crackers’. How come the Equity Czar for the county isn’t fixing up the numbers of the shootings to achieve racial equity?

    • Bingo on mentioning the equity czar…it seems the more woke the public education system gets, the more discipline problems its encountering. What does that tell you?

      • Fifty years ago, when I was in school, there were very few disciplinary problems that couldn’t be solved with the paddle…the nuclear family with a real mother and a real father is the best way to raise a child. Period.

  • It’s takes a village to raise a child when the child doesn’t have a father at home. Maybe we should do away with free public school and make all education private where the parents have to pay 100%
    of their child’s education…after all, their child’s education is their personal responsibility… don’t breed em if you can’t educate and feed them. People need to think of the consequences and responsibilities of having random
    Sex and having babies. Women are the gatekeepers and should be more
    Prudent with the birth control…a rubber is a lot cheaper than an abortion.

    • Yes. Parents have to have more skin in the game…the parents should pay half of the education cost and sales tax, not property tax, should pay the rest.
      If you got a child in the system, you should have to pay a user fee,
      Not flop your personal responsibility on me…if the parent paid $5000/year for each kid personally, they would make sure they did their homework…we got a lot of deadbeat parents who can’t take care of themselves bringing
      Children into this world they can’t
      Take care of properly…if you can’t educate and feed a child, don’t make one. Be personally responsible. That works.

  • How they count matters as well. I bet most of these suspensions are the same kids getting suspended multiple times. Look at police arrest and call load numbers by race. I think the suspensions would mirror these numbers closely. School to prison pipeline…the above suggests society as a whole must throw money at this issue. Why should I as a productive member of society be forced to take on an additional unwanted burden?

  • Are these supposedly educated people for real? Reduce the disparity between blacks and whites? Maybe they haven’t noticed that blacks are arrested at between 1/2 and 3/4 of total arrests, yet comprise about 17% of the population. I didn’t notice the words discipline or punishment for bad behavior used. I did notice they are having a problem filling positions.

  • Good Grief, what a waste of time , money and usless conversation skirting around simply real discipline. Keep it up School Board, more teachers and students leaving your failed agenda. If a school board member steals and is not discplined it’s a very poor example for the kids, and you did nothing about it.

    • You’re right CS. The linked video of Ms. Anhalt was heartbreaking because we’ll soon see her points were ignored.

  • It’s not brain surgery. Get the trouble makers out of the schools no matter what thire skin pigmentation is. Our family will be leaving the county after this school year. The ACSB is a joke they have tied school administrator hands when it comes to discipline. They keep passing the buck . Food for thought go north,south east and west no other school system is having the issues like we are having here.

  • I’m noticing that these recommendations from Dr Edwards and Jen Anhalt seem like a blast from our past. This is not new. We’ve just lost personnel and funding. We were doing in school suspension programs 15-20 years ago very successfully in many middle and high schools. As a school counselor, I was a part of the Student Support Team(as all schools should have) and we were fortunate to have a very caring, committed ISS person/program who worked with our students academically and social/personally to return them to the classroom.

  • Y’all act like the sbac can control the single parent homes…THEY CANT all they do is change what they control…like seriously what gov entity can make/force/encourage fathers to stay in the home…maybe reverse some of the gov policies that made the fathers leave the home in the first place…I’m a teacher and all schools are understaffed since Covid THATS the major difference and why numbers are horrible

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