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High school district kicks out 1 in 3 students

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High school district kicks out 1 in 3 students

Proviso East won’t let Lavonne Glenn, 16, return until next August. His dad, Lovyonne Glenn, is trying to find another school.

Chip Mitchell/WBEZ

The idea behind suspending or expelling a high-school troublemaker seems pretty straight-forward: You want the troublemaker gone so other kids have a better learning environment. On the other hand, removing students increases their risk of falling behind or even dropping out. A violent incident in a suburban high school is raising questions about just how often administrators give students the boot. We report from our West Side bureau.

You may have heard some controversy out of Proviso East High School in Maywood. The gist is that there was a fight and a kid got hurt. School board members expelled a few students they thought were involved. Some Chicago ministers showed up to protest.

MINISTER: Father, in the name of Jesus, we’re calling on you, oh God, to protect these families...

The ministers claim the school district was too quick to kick the students out. I thought I’d ask around to see what other people thought about the expulsions.

First, I stopped at Erica Edmond’s place. She’s the mom of one of the expelled kids. She says she doesn’t understand why the district couldn’t find another option.

EDMOND: I thought they were getting paid to keep him in. Get him some mentors or, if you feel like he’s struggling with something, talk to him and figure it out. And then help him with that. We’re losing too many young men out here.

I wondered whether Edmond had a point. Maybe Proviso Township High Schools does suspend kids too often.

I asked the district for its latest numbers but didn’t get them. So, I used the best I could find: the ones Proviso gives to the State of Illinois.

What I learned is that, year after year, the district suspends or expels one in three of its students. I looked at the state’s 50 districts with the biggest high-school enrollments and ranked them by their suspension rates. Proviso is No. 3 on that list.

I brought all these numbers to the district’s superintendent, Nettie Collins-Hart.

COLLINS-HART: I’ll tell you, Chip, I’d have to look at your data to see how you calculated this. I’m aware that we’re suspending more students than we want to suspend. Now, that I’m aware of!

MITCHELL: I’m just trying to figure out why so many students.

COLLINS-HART: I’d have to go back, but this is what I suspect are some of the most prevalent reasons: tardies, lack of attendance. We don’t begin with kicking a kid out of school. Those consequences -- they are incremental, increasing in severity. So we talk with our students, we counsel with our students. We have our parents come in. We provide in-school suspension. We provide after-school detention. Schools have Saturday School.

So, given these other measures, why does Proviso still resort to suspension? I left the meeting without clear answers. And I asked an expert what could be going on.

SKIBA: We know that teacher training and qualifications tend not to be as high in urban schools.

Russell Skiba researches educational psychology at Indiana University.

SKIBA: There may be less of an understanding of how to deal with disciplinary problems, a poorer level of resources for the kinds of pro-active, preventive programs that will help students.

But the Proviso district isn’t blaming a lack of resources.

It’s also not blaming the fact that almost a third of its students come from low-income households. Many poorer districts suspend and expel kids less often.

And Proviso’s not blaming the fact that nearly all its students are black or Latino.

It could be that Proviso’s just trying to keep its halls safe. But Skiba says, even then, removing a lot of students may not help.

SKIBA: It doesn’t make the school any safer and it exposes kids to the dangers of being out on the street, where they could learn a set of new behaviors to bring back in.

I go back to Erica Edmond, that mom of the kid expelled from Proviso East. I tell her how often the district removes kids and what administrators say about that. Edmond says she’s not surprised.

EDMOND: If you don’t know what’s going on inside the school, you’re not working for the school. You’re just working for the check.

Edmond says she never got clear answers why Proviso Township expelled her son. So it doesn’t surprise her I didn’t get clear answers about all the other the kids the district kicks out.

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