Cedar Rapids School District reforms discipline policy

Published: Feb. 20, 2017 at 5:53 PM CST
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The Cedar Rapids Community School District is reforming its discipline policy, while waiting for the results of a federal investigation.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation over whether the district unfairly punished minority students more than white students.

Teaching other teachers is no easy feat. That's why there's a whole staff at Cedar Rapids Community School District's headquarters, dedicated to the cause.

Educator Kat Bevins is part of the team.

"Learning how to question our own upbringing, backgrounds and assumptions of what should be a punishment and looking at the research of what actually works," Bevins said.

The district's new discipline philosophy goes beyond punishment, it asks teachers to understand and even empathize with a student's life.

Teachers are asked to decide what the district calls a "logical consequence."

"If there is a problem behavior or a student needs assistance in class, looking at it from a teachable moment so the consequence matches what the behavior was, so there's a learning experience for the student," Bevins said.

In previous years, this consequence would be a detention. Now, the district is trying to move away from using that word.

"Historically detentions have a punitive sound," Director of Learning Supports Paul Hayes said.

Now called extra time or extension periods, the punishment for disrupting classroom behavior involves one on one time with a teacher, to make up for lost instruction time.

"The more we can work with the student and the family to recover the lost instruction, and in some cases restore relationships that were harmed from the result of the behavior, then that's holding the student even more accountable," Hayes said.

Involving the student's family is the second part of reforming the districts punishment policy. And it's a part the NAACP would like to see emphasized.

"We're saying start day one with parents,'" Dedric Doolin said.

Even before the federal investigation, the school district held quarterly meetings with the local NAACP chapter. In recent meetings, the two parties have gone over the number of students disciplined.

"Obviously we've been concerned for a long time of the behavior of the school district and how the school district has performed when working with students of color," Doolin said.

The NAACP would like to see the district set concrete goals to get the number of minority student punishments down.

"If there's not a goal then there's not a commitment to make change. So one of the things we need to talk about more is specific goals for McKinley, Johnson," Doolin said.

District leaders said there's no exact goals, rather it's part of a continuous effort.

"If we are looking at the growth mindset we can always grow more and be better and no matter what we point we get to we'll always just want to get better," Bevins said.

District leaders also said it's too soon to tell if the new discipline practice is effective. They said it all begins with its own educators.

"It's a long process because of the mindsets that need to shift an we've got some historically ingrained philosophies of what should happen to a student when they're in trouble. Rethink that and challenge thinking," Hayes said.

The U.S. Department of Education said it can't comment on an ongoing investigation.