Okemos Public Schools’ Board of Education discusses discipline in schools

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The Board of Education met at the Community Conference Room in Okemos, Michigan at 7:00 p.m. Photo by Ashley Fernandez.

Over the past few years, the Okemos Public Schools’ Board of Education has made policy changes regarding discipline and as a result of the change asked that the administration periodically update the board.

The update serves to identify trends in the school community’s reaction to the change in policy. With this, the board is given the opportunity to evaluate the decision-making that the school community is experiencing as it relates to discipline.

Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent of Okemos schools, led the presentation at the Oct. 23 school board meeting by discussing the raw data report of the 2016-2017 school year. The data recognizes students who had received an out of school suspension for three days or more.

Last year, Okemos High School had 0.84 percent of students suspended, Kinawa 5-6 School had 1.4 percent students suspended and Chippewa Middle School had 3.7 percent of students suspended. The results have remained consistent between the ranges over the past three years since the policy changes have taken place.

“It is about, No. 1, training our staff, but also, training our students,” said Zachery-Ross. “This is a shift in thought for our school district as we have made decisions in response to discipline.”

Prior to enacting the policy, there was a revision of the code of conduct done by assessing the attendance policy and attempting to align consequences with behavior severity.

“When we talk about discipline, we don’t talk about it in isolation,” said John Hood, assistant superintendent for instruction.  “Discipline is one piece and we try to approach it on a much larger scale than just discipline, because that seems reactionary.”

To be proactive, the school board has increased its knowledge base through research based “best practices” including positive behavior intervention systems, restorative justice practices, culturally responsive schools, crisis prevention intervention, trauma informed classrooms and mindfulness.

“We need to know what success looks like in our schools and be clear with our students on what success looks like behaviorally, with our students, so they understand and can meet the expectations,” said Hood.

The State of Michigan expects educators to utilize restorative practices when they are working through situations with students. These practices place emphasis on the need for students to be responsible to those that their behavior has impacted and work to make it right. Restorative practices are used daily to urge students to be accountable for their actions and can be layered with other consequences.

“A second component of this is looking at student behavior more as a teachable moment, not discipline, that’s the consequence or the action, but the behavior as a teachable moment and the philosophy or belief that how do we keep students in school,” said Cheri Meier, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 found that:

“When students feel connected to their schools, they are more likely to succeed academically and engage in healthy behaviors. Specifically, school connectedness is associated with better school attendance, better retention, better test scores, and lower rates of emotional problems, substance abuse, sexual initiation, violence and other risky behaviors. Schools foster connectedness by creating safe environments, promoting caring and supportive relationships, providing meaningful opportunity for participating in the school environment, among other strategies.”

Educators are working with the presented data to transform their knowledge into action in the classroom. The aim of the policies, practices and procedures is to help reduce suspension rates, overall discipline rates and keep students learning in a well-connected classroom.

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