Saturday, March 26, 2016

Student discipline law sees significant changes

Recent legislation referred to as SB 100 (P.A. 99-456) significantly amended student discipline statutes. Advocates had urged dramatic changes to Illinois’ student discipline law to overcome what they called the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and the practices that allegedly drive students out of classrooms and into the juvenile justice system. The legislation’s goal was to refocus disciplinary practices on education rather than exclusion.

The Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance originally opposed the bill but eventually removed its opposition after negotiating with lawmakers to remove provisions that would have stripped local school management from much disciplinary authority. The Alliance worked with the sponsors and the bill’s supporters for over a year before reaching the final negotiated legislation. Though school districts could still face challenges implementing the new law, the Alliance was able to preserve the safety of students and staff as a priority in the legislation.

While the bill won’t go into effect until Sep. 15, school administrators and attorneys are already preparing to comply with the new requirements. IASB policy staff dedicated PRESS Issue 91 to the subject and urged school boards to work with their local school attorneys to adopt the revised policies now.

The new law prohibits, among other things, school personnel encouraging or advising students to drop out because of behavioral or academic difficulties. Another provision encourages schools to use “positive interventions and supports” to deter students from engaging in aggressive behavior.

School officials should also know that expelling or suspending a student based on the number of disciplinary infractions they have had may be illegal. Moreover, the new law calls into question the validity of relying on a student’s past misconduct in making suspension or expulsion decisions. The intent is to get school officials to consider forms of non-exclusionary discipline to the greatest extent that is feasible.

The impact of the new law has been formulated in a series of IASB sample policies: 7:150, Agency and Police Interviews; 7:190, Student Behavior (formally Student Discipline); 7:200, Suspension Procedures; 7:210, Expulsion Procedures; 7:220, Bus Conduct; 7:230, Misconduct by Students with Disabilities; and 7:240, Conduct Code for Participants in Extracurricular Activities.

The Association has also prepared corresponding sample administrative procedures: 7:150, Agency and Police Interviews; 7:190-AP2, Student Handbook – Gang Activity Prohibited; AP3, Guidelines for Reciprocal Reporting of Criminal Offenses Committed by Students; AP4, Use of Isolated Time Out and Physical Restraint; AP 7, Student Discipline Guidelines; and AP 8, Student Re-Engagement Guidelines, and numerous sample exhibits.

School officials have said the severe restrictions on exclusionary discipline contained in the new law will increase the use of in-school suspensions, according to PRESS editors. School boards should consider removing limits on the number of days a student may be required to serve an in-school suspension in order to add flexibility to the use of such suspensions.

Re-engagement of students returning from an exclusionary discipline or from an alternative school is yet another school strategy that PRESS encourages for complying with the law’s new requirements. The PRESS policy adds a section on such re-engagement, and it includes a requirement that students who have been suspended be allowed to complete or make up work for equivalent academic credit.

Although the new law does not take effect until the fall, PRESS editors suggest that boards adopt the revised policies now. Three policies have delayed effective dates, a process similar to one used by the Illinois General Assembly. Such policies begin with this statement: “This policy becomes effective and replaces the current policy on [policy’s title] on the first student attendance day of the 2016-2017 school year.” The PRESS editors chose to make some of the amended policies effective on “the first student attendance day,” rather than when the law is effective (9-15-2016), to avoid confusion.

“That means that when the amended policies are adopted, they will not be effective as the 2015-2016 school year comes to an end,” explained IASB’s Assistant General Counsel, Kimberly Small. “After the first student attendance day of the 2016-2017 school year, the amended policies will replace their former versions, which can then be deleted from the policy manual,” she said.

Another important action that SB 100 encourages for school officials, according to Small, is to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that defines the role of local law enforcement in schools. Instructions for obtaining a copy of the sample MOU has been posted on the IASB website here. Its purpose is to help define local law enforcement agency roles in schools as encouraged by the new law (105 ILCS 5/10-20.14(b) amended by P.A. 99-456, eff. Sept. 15, 2016). It also describes the respective duties of a school district and its local law enforcement agencies. Its overarching purpose is to prevent confusion, decrease conflict, and promote school safety with best-practice sample terms that school districts may modify to meet their local needs.

Small noted that the sample MOU is published for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice or a legal opinion on a specific question, boards should consult their own lawyer.

Small said the latest PRESS issue was one of the most extensive projects in recent years and required the help of a peer review from school attorneys across the state. “We would like to thank the attorneys on our IASB PRESS SB 100 committee and the ICSA Executive Committee for their expert feedback on many pieces of PRESS material on student discipline,” she said.