Senate Bill 100 (SB100) was passed in the Ill. senate in January 2015. The bill seeks to legislate disciplinary guidelines for all public and charter schools within the state. Its main provisions explicitly require that schools minimize practices such as suspension and expulsion while increasing the use of alternatives to those said consequences. In other words, suspensions and expulsions become the last resort as a consequence rather than the first response.
“Senate Bill 100 ensures that schools do whatever they can to help support students so they learn and grow to be their best,” Division Head of Student Success, Safety and Wellness Jonathan Weintraub said. “[The bill] tries to shy away from punitive consequences and move towards more logical, natural and restorative consequences.”
Because the bill encourages more restorative practices to be enforced, school culture is shifted to emphasize reparation over retributive consequences which focus on punishing the student to match his/her offense. Restorative justice calls for better communication between the student and staff to then create a supportive environment to help that student learn from his/her mistakes.
“In situations [where students have disrespected others or the school policy], there are parents, counselors and division heads involved, and we really try to repair the harm done and get students back to learning in the classroom,” Weintraub said. “We are strong believers that high school is the last stage of teenagers’ lives where they can essentially make mistakes and not have these fallible moments [follow them] for the rest of their lives before they enter the real world. The need for restorative justice [allows] the opportunity [for students] to understand their actions may cause harm, and when that takes place, there is an opportunity to fix that harm. From that, you learn and grow.”
The bill also requires that the school staff is given a refresher on the guidelines of the bill every year in order to ensure the disciplinary standards are addressed and met. There were two staff meetings held recently during the first semester to go over the bill’s guidelines and receive input from staff.
“Teacher reactions were mixed…” Weintraub said. “Out of that meeting came further inquiries about what it is and what it entails, so that was really exciting. That interest is going to drive professional development.”
SB100 aims to help students have a voice to communicate with others in order to get in touch with and develop their emotional management, interpersonal skills, positive relationships and responsible behavior. Despite the fact that SB100 and restorative justice generally allow for students to remain in the classroom, some staff is concerned with the disadvantages that the restorative practices create.
Some feedback has indicated that teachers are having to continuously take time out of their lessons in order to focus on behavioral management and file paperwork to prove that they have done everything in their power to help the students. This can be seen as unhelpful in that it is unfair to the students who do want to learn and to the staff themselves when the misbehaving student does not change his/her attitude, and the teacher is pulled further away from the rest of the class.
“Students need to demonstrate personal responsibility for their actions and what goes on in their lives at school,” Special Education teacher Bob Meyer said. “Detentions sometimes don’t do it because they don’t change students’ behavior. Students really need to be held accountable in different ways. Do I have a straightforward answer to [how to do] that? No, because each kid learns and adapts uniquely. Things have changed. Sometimes that makes it hard for teachers to adjust to because we were brought up so differently. Detention was enough for me to not want to do something. There are a lot of different viewpoints—you may have been raised one way and I was raised a different way—but we have to understand that to grow. We get stuck in our ways, our old ways, and that’s not enough for our students.”
In order to address teacher input and integrate student voice into disciplinary changes regarding guidelines and standards, the administration is looking to create a discipline committee. The committee made up of various staff members will also seek out student opinion.
“It cannot just be one person that is dictating; it has to be a team effort,” Weintraub said. “Whenever we talk about school discipline, there is always room for conversation and growth. Society is changing, kids are changing, and all of these different changes happening on the outside have to impact the way changes are occurring within the inside of this building.”