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Published: Tuesday, 10/30/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Positive behavior strategy seeks to lessen discipline gap

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kendra Kec, Lucas County Juvenile Court assistant court administrator, left, and court administrator Deborah Hodges, speak with eighth-graders Kailyn Jackson, Emily Escalante, center, and Manny Barnes at Reynolds School. The two girls are members of Young Women of Excellence; Young Barnes is a member of the Student African American Brotherhood. Kendra Kec, Lucas County Juvenile Court assistant court administrator, left, and court administrator Deborah Hodges, speak with eighth-graders Kailyn Jackson, Emily Escalante, center, and Manny Barnes at Reynolds School. The two girls are members of Young Women of Excellence; Young Barnes is a member of the Student African American Brotherhood.
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In a bid to improve school climates and reduce the disparity in discipline rates between white and minority students, Toledo Public Schools will start a districtwide preventative discipline system.

The program, called a positive behavior intervention supports system, is being piloted at six TPS schools this year, with the aim of every building adopting the program. The system is meant to improve school climates, reinforce positive behavior, and teach appropriate action to students through a preventative approach to discipline, rather than a reactionary one, school officials said.

Every classroom in every school would have the same expectations, and students would be taught the values around those expectations, Assistant Superintendent Brian Murphy said at a news conference Monday.

“The hope would be that we would see a reduction in behavior issues,” he said.

The move is a victory of sorts for Toledoans United for Social Action, a group of two dozen church congregations that works to address injustices in jobs, safety, youth, and education. The group has pushed TPS for years to alter its discipline approach, as minority students are disciplined at higher rates than white students, and are arrested at TPS schools much more frequently.

Part of the goal of the system is to reduce the number of safe-school ordinance violations, which often is the first charge lodged against juveniles, said Kendra Kec, assistant court administrator for Lucas County Juvenile Court.

About 43 percent of the district’s student population is black, but more than 70 percent of the days lost to disciplinary issues involved black students, statistics show.

The district worked on the intervention supports system with TUSA, which has pushed for a positive behavior program, said the Rev. James Willis, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. The organization endorsed the program on Monday.

“I know they are on the right direction,” Mr. Willis said of TPS.

The district has an impetus beyond public pressure to change its approach. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio opened an inquiry last year into allegations of “significant racial disparities” in student discipline at TPS. Justice Department spokesman Mike Tobin said the investigation is ongoing.

A committee formed in 2008 by then-board of education member Jack Ford investigated the high number of students out of school for discipline problems. The panel made several recommendations for policy changes, but some members said meaningful change was still lacking in TPS.

District officials have acknowledged the discipline disparities, but they’ve also noted their first priority is safety in the classrooms; simply being less stringent wasn’t an answer. The new system is the district’s attempt to address discipline problems at their root, reducing actual incidences of misbehavior and thus suspensions and expulsions.

The program was endorsed by Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, who said the union supports the program because it is proven to teach students appropriate behavior and to reduce disruptions in schools.

The district is implementing the system in these K-8 schools this year: Reynolds, McTigue, Samuel M. Jones at Gunckel Park, East Broadway, Riverside, and Chase STEM Academy. In future years, between 10 and 12 additional schools will annually adopt the system.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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