Illinois law eliminates “zero-tolerance” policy

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CHRISMAN, Ill. (WTHI) – A new law in Illinois is only days old, but it changes how school districts handle student discipline.

News 10 spoke to Nancy Dalenberg, Chrisman High and Chrisman-Scottland Junior High Principal.

She has been with the district for the last 25 years.

In that time, she says discipline has never been much of a problem.

She says, “We’re small enough we have very few suspensions. Only one expulsion that I’ve known of in 25 years.”

A new Illinois law eliminates automatic “zero tolerance” suspensions and expulsions.

It requires that schools exhaust all other means of intervention before expelling students or suspending them for more than three days.

Dalenberg is fully behind the law.

She says, “I do think it is a good thing because the purpose I believe, was to make sure that students don’t get expelled or suspended from school at a rate where they miss a lot of educational opportunities.”

While placing more emphasis on continued student learning is a huge point of the law, it also requires more responsibility for school administration.

Dalenberg says, “I just think that it makes us as a district, fully accountable for not only when that student is in the building, but if we place them out of the building for any reason, we are still accountable to make sure that they get their educational opportunity. That’s what I think every student deserves, and that is the law.”

Once students are finished with suspension, there’s another step the school must take.

Dalenberg says, “We have to also have in place a strategy for when they come back and re-enter the educational world here at the school. We have to have a strategy in place to make sure they got their homework, got their services when they were gone, and that we re-integrate them back into the building.”

While Dalenberg says the disciplinary actions are a last resort, the opportunity to grow cannot be sold short.

She says, “I think that it lets the student know that as in society, there are boundaries and laws that we all have to abide by, and students learn.”

Dalenberg says a student can only be suspended or expelled if a student poses a safety threat, or a significant disruption to others learning.

The law prohibits fines and fees for misbehavior, and requires schools to communicate with parents about why certain disciplinary measures are being used.

Illinois lawmakers passed the bill with overwhelming support last year.

States have been rethinking the zero-tolerance policies that gained prominence following the mass shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999.

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