New law addresses racial disparities in school discipline

lightford scholdiciplineSPRINGFIELD – A 2012 study found that Illinois suspends more African-American students than any other state in the U.S., including a Black-White suspension disparity that is the highest in the country. To address this all-too-apparent problem and the overall frequency of out-of-school discipline, a new law will help to ensure that all students are in school and off the streets as much as possible.

“Constantly suspending and expelling the very kids that need to be in school is one of the most counter-productive practices of our education system,” said Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, sponsor of the successful legislation. “We need to keep young people in school learning how to succeed and off of the street corner learning how best to end up in prison.”

The new law will address the frequency and racial disparity of suspensions and expulsions in several ways, including the following:

  • Disciplinary removals of longer than three days must be limited to instances where the student’s presence is an on-going threat to the school, and all other options have been exhausted.
  • A school board must state how a suspension and expulsion is in the best interest of a school before disciplinary action.
  • School districts must establish re-engagement policies for disciplined students.
  • Suspended students must be given the opportunity to make up their work.
  • School officials must limit suspensions and expulsions to the greatest extent practicable.

Original research into state records has shown that in the 2010-2011 school year, Illinois students lost 1,117,453 instructional days due to disciplinary actions, 95 percent of which were for minor offenses.

“Illinois’ highest-need students are dropping out of school or ending up in the criminal justice system – at an enormous cost to Illinois taxpayers – for incidents that could have and should have been addressed within the school environment,” said Sen. Lightford. “Expulsions and suspensions will now only be a last resort. This is a great victory for everyone in Illinois and all those children who hold out hope for their future in what has seemed, at times, like an elusive dream of a great education.”

The law goes into effect September 15, 2016.

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