A bill sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) (pictured left) designed to help eliminate the racial disparities in school discipline outcomes in the state was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Mon. August 24. The bill passed the General Assembly with bipartisan approval in late spring.
A statement released by the Lightford’s office cites a 2012 study, which found that Illinois leads the nation in the number of black students it suspends and has the widest disparity among states between black and white student suspensions.
Last school year, according to Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) enrollment data, African American students comprised around 18 percent of all PreK-8 students in the state — but they comprised around 40 percent of PreK-8 students in the state who received at least one in- or out-of-school suspension.
The new law, which takes effect September 15 next year, is designed to “help ensure that all students are in school and off the streets as much as possible,” according to Lightford’s statement.
The new law requires school districts to “limit suspensions and expulsions to the greatest extent practicable” by stating how a suspension or expulsion best serves the interest of the school and by limiting disciplinary removals of more than three days only to students who present on-going threats to schools — and even then, only after having exhausted all other options.
The new law will also require districts to allow suspended students the opportunity to make up their work and create re-engagement policies for students who are disciplined.
“Constantly suspending and expelling the very kids that need to be in school is one of the most counterproductive practices of our education system,” Lightford noted. “We need to keep yong people in school learning how to succeed and off the street corner learning how best to end up in prison.”
In April, Lightford stated, in an article published by the Illinois Times, that “schools are suspending kids for 10 days flat out.” She said many expulsions are taking place and “kids are not in school learning as they should be. I do recognize that kids need to be disciplined, so the bill does allow that to remain.”
In a recent article by Huffington Post national corresponded Christina Wilkie, Lightford’s bill is part of a more comprehensive national dialogue about the connection between school discipline and the criminal justice system.
“As the nation engages in a broader conversation about criminal justice reform, school discipline policies are emerging as a key factor that can alter a young person’s course in life. Numerous studies in recent years have shown that students who are suspended from school, or referred to the juvenile justice system for minor offenses, are significantly more likely to drop out before graduating from high school,” Wilkie wrote earlier this month.
“On Tuesday, the Center for American Progress released a new report on truancy, which included the formal recommendation that schools “make punitive consequences, such as ticketing, fines, or removal from the classroom, a last resort.” VFP
2014 Number of Students Suspended Only Once by Gender, Grade Cluster, and Race/Ethnicity || ISBE Data || Note: To protect student privacy, cell sizes of less than 10 are suppressed; cell sizes of 10 or more are suppressed when disclosure would allow indirect disclosure of cell sizes of less than 10. In other words, cells that have no figures may indicate that the number of students suspended in that designated group was fewer than 10.
In-School Suspensions in Illinois by Gender, Grade Cluster and Race (students suspended only once)
Out of School Suspensions in Illinois by Gender, Grade Cluster and Race (students suspended only once)
In School (top) and Out of School (bottom) suspensions in District 89 by Gender, Grade Cluster and Race (students suspended only once)
In School (top) and Out of School (bottom) suspensions in District 209 by Gender, Grade Cluster and Race (students suspended only once)