ARGENTA, Ill. (WCIA) — Over the last few months, school districts across the state have made some tough decisions.
24 Decatur teaching assistants are losing their jobs. It’s part of the district’s plan to re-work their discipline system. But that’s a process nearly every school in the state is going through.
It’s all in response to a new state law. In some districts, faculty and staff positions are being cut or moved. So adjusting to a new reality is tougher in some schools than others.
The sign outside Argenta-Oreana High School says “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal.” That’s not too different from the new philosophy districts across the state have adopted.
“I like the fact that we’re keeping students in school more often,” says principal Sean German, who says the difference is clear.
“Some of those infractions, looking back 10 or 15 years ago, that resulted in out-of-school suspension or potentially an expulsion, we’re able to keep those students in school longer now.”
In 2015, lawmakers passed senate bill 100. It restricted the way schools can dish out harsh disciplinary consequences, instead promoting alternatives. Many districts have started using the philosophy of Restorative Practices, a method that focuses on relationships instead of punishment.
“It’s just good from a societal standpoint that we have this conversation,” says German.
German says the new requirements were no problem for his school, but that’s not the case statewide. On Tuesday night, the Decatur school board voted to cut 24 teaching assistant positions as part of their plan to revamp their discipline structure. Last month, Urbana schools moved six dean positions into faculty positions. Two years ago, Champaign schools added five dean positions.
“I think the movement has captured a lot of important things that have been missing,” says Mikhail Lyubansky.
He serves as a consultant for school districts adjusting to the changes. He says despite some districts having to make sacrifices, he believes the new philosophy works.
“Schools have had a very strong infrastructure to do punitive discipline,” Lyubansky says, “They’ve had a number of dedicated professionals whose full time job it’s been to dispense discipline. They’ve had spaces in the school– detention rooms– that have been set aside for, this is where ‘punishment’ happens. So what will it look like to transform those spaces and the people involved with something that’s really philosophically different?”
While districts are mandated to make some discipline changes, the way they do that is up to them. In some cases, their decisions have caused controversy.