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Peoria Public Schools Takes Hard Look at Racial Disparities in Discipline

Dr. Kherat's illustration of equality (giving everyone the same boost) versus equity (boosting everyone to the same level).
Peoria Public Schools via YouTube
Dr. Kherat's illustration of equality (giving everyone the same boost) versus equity (boosting everyone to the same level).

Peoria Public Schools is taking steps to address its high rates of racially disproportionate discipline.

The Illinois State Board of Education has flagged the district for the past three years. At eight Peoria schools, all of the students suspended over a 10-day period were black. 

The schools include Glen Oak, Manual, Peoria High, Richwoods, Roosevelt Magnet, Sterling, Trewyn, and Von Steuben. 

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat says those eight schools are now involved in a year-long program to tackle that inequity in punishments through disparity plans.

Renee Andrews is principal of Trewyn School. She says her staff is reading and discussing "For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood," a book about white teachers working with black students.

“We all said some of it makes us say ‘ouch,’ because we really have to look in the mirror and see are we drawing conclusions about students before they even open their mouths based on how they look, how they dress, and how they interact with their peers," said Andrews. 

She said her staff are having “rich and honest” discussions about past interactions with students and how to react better in the future. Other principals have arranged book groups, edited "culturally insensitive" passages out of school handbooks, and brought in consultants.

Kherat said the plans are not about giving anyone special treatment, but leveling the playing field for students who face disadvantages to begin with.  

Part of that involves cutting down on discipline referrals. Sterling Middle School Principal Lynn Lane said the school has cut down on referrals by about a third this year, and are imposing fewer in-school and out-of-school suspensions as educators look for alternatives for dealing with discipline issues. 

But Peoria Federation of Teachers President Jeff Adkins-Dutro said the declining discipline numbers touted by several principals as proof of progress only show that referrals can be cut down when a directive comes from the top. He said more needs to be done. 

“This kind of change will not be brought about with skewed, surface-level referral data. Nor will it be brought about if we continue to pretend we have meaningful interventions, supports and mechanisms in place to ensure quality teacher and student well-being," he said. 

The school district is due to present an update to the state this week.   

Peoria Public Schools is not the only local school district included on the state board of education's racially-disproportionate discipline list for the last three years. The following Central Illinois districts are also listed in the top 20 percent statewide at least once over the past three years:

  • Creve Coeur SD 76 - 2016
  • East Peoria SD 86 - 2017
  • Eureka CUD 140 - 2016
  • Farmington Central CUSD 265 - 2017
  • Illini Bluffs CUSD 327 - 2018
  • Limestone CHSD 310 - 2016-18
  • Morton CUSD 709 - 2018
  • North Pekin/Marquette Heights District 102 - 2018
  • Princeville CUSD 326 - 2018

Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.