Every time Christian County Public Schools releases its annual discipline report, eyebrows raise and conclusions are drawn. From the students to the administrators to the parents, everyone looks for someone to blame for the number of suspensions, but let's look a little closer to determine what might be at play here.
The 2018-19 CCPS discipline data shows a rise of in-school suspensions across the district. When broken down by race and school, Christian County High School saw a rise of suspensions for Caucasian and African-American students, while Hopkinsville High School saw a decrease of in-school suspensions and rise in out-of-school suspensions for both African-American and Caucasian students (we'll get to that later).
Infractions ranged from disruptive behavior to improper contact, with disruptions and failure to follow directives being the most common infractions of students.
The first thing to consider when looking at the data is kids will be kids. Some are going to test the system, others are going to talk back while a few just simply aren't going to listen to authority. Discipline measures have to be put in place to maintain order in the learning environment -- whether or not that involves sending the student out of the classroom and, furthermore, out of school is the concern.
In 2014, the district began the process to implement the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system after a mandate by the United States Office of Civil Rights. That system involves a complete retraining of all staff and administrators.
According to the PBIS website, the system is a three- to five-year training commitment to systematically change "the way schools do business."
Under that timeline, the local district should just be on the back end of the training. But that timeline doesn't necessarily include the large turnover in school staff.
For example, HHS brought in a new principal for the 2018-2019 school year. PBIS had not been implemented correctly by the previous administration so it was up to the new administration to make sweeping changes to be in compliance with the system.
That could be the reason for the rise in out-of-school suspensions.
When the Kentucky Department of Education performed an audit on the district during the 2018-19 school year, it found the PBIS implementation lacking in a few areas and put the district on a corrective action plan. CCPS isn't the only district that has been hit with non-compliance from KDE -- Jefferson County Public Schools also is under a corrective action plan as part of a settlement between the state and district.
PBIS focuses on intervening in problem behavior in a three-tiered approach while also keeping students in the classroom.
The first tier focuses solely on setting the standard and establishing the expectation across the board, so it's not surprising that discipline rose in this past school year.
If any conclusion is to be made it's that the district had to set the standard and stick to it. If a school's policy states that after three tardies a student receives one day of in-school suspension, that needs to be followed through every time. Once students know the expectations and the consequences, administrators can move to Tier II, which is support for students with repeat infractions and suspensions so they can correct the issue and continue learning among their peers.
Just one year after the training commitment timeline for PBIS, we think it's too early to point fingers or to buck the system. Instead, we anticipate the supports that will be put in place for students, teachers, administrators and parents.
Once that happens, we anticipate a drop in suspension numbers.
Studies show that using suspension as the sole discipline tool can increase the chance the student will be suspended again and could lead to drop outs.
We are in no way advocating for throwing students out when they don't behave. We ask that students be shown both tough love and grace as they learn and mature. The PBIS system, in its intentions, can do just that.