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ICCSD hires national expert to lower disciplinary referrals

BY REBECCA MORIN | SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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As cultural differences blur the line between what is considered “disrespectful,” local secondary-school teachers appear to be struggling with disciplining children properly.

One Iowa City School District official emphasized that the disciplinary actions for one minority group are concerning.

“It may be cultural and how we receive other cultures and what is defiant and disrespectful, but it may be other factors,” said Ann Feldmann, an assistant superintendent of the School District.

District officials are mulling the potential repercussions that students should receive following disruptive or disrespectful incidents.

“But we don’t know yet, so we’re working on what is ‘defiance and disrespect’ so we can have a consistent definition,” she said.

The district hired national expert David Osher to help define specific meanings for certain criteria that students may receive referrals for.

The district is receiving funding from the Iowa Department of Human Rights and through a grant to pay the expert.

“We identified that at the secondary level we want to reduce the disproportionality that we have in our discipline, our suspensions in disciplines, and that sort of thing,” Feldmann said. “The rate at which, especially African Americans students, are being identified for discipline is disproportionate to the percentage of the students.”

The two largest reasons students in the district’s three junior high schools and three high schools receive referrals are for being disrespectful or being defiant and for being tardy.

Twenty-five percent of students receive a referral for being disrespectful or defiant, and 14 percent of students receive a referral for being tardy, according to the 2012-13 District Safety and Climate Report, which was presented Tuesday afternoon.

Feldmann said the definition of how students are being disrespectful or defiant is “squishy,” and teachers do not know at what point to discipline the student. The definition of tardy is also being discussed.

Currently, there is also a trend of elementary-school students to receiving referrals for being disrespectful and defiant. However, the district is only focusing on secondary schools because of previous support implementations in elementary schools.

“At the elementary, our focus was on positive behavior supports, so the district has put a lot of resources into that, and that started earlier,” said Rebecca Furlong, a district assistant superintendent. “So, I would say it’s not necessarily the emphasis is more important on one or the other, it’s just kind of the timeline.”

According to the 2012-2013 District Welcome Book, African American make up 16.6 percent of the student population. Latino Americans make up 8.9 percent, Asian Americans make up 6.8 percent, and American Indian are 0.4 percent of the population.

Although this is a multi-year process, Feldmann said, the grant funding only provides the district to hire Osher for one school year. However, officials hope to continue to improve teacher training once they better define referral criteria.

“So let’s start with the data, define it, and then teachers — by their very nature — will say, ‘That’s not defiance, but it’s disrupting my class, now I need help,’ and so we’re hoping that that’s the next natural step that comes out of this,” Feldmann said.

One local parent believes that the school district should have started working on the issue years before.

“I can’t believe that they haven’t defined them before,” said Julie Van Dyke. “That’s ridiculous; they should be specifically defined so we know what we’re counting; otherwise, we don’t know what we’re counting, and ‘squishy’ is unacceptable.”


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