On August 24, 2015, Governor Rauner signed into law Public Act 99-456. The Act requires school districts and charter schools to overhaul their discipline policies and is aimed at reducing the incidence of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The new requirements take effect September 15, 2016. The new legislation follows recent guidance from the Department of Education and Department of Justice addressing racial disparities in school discipline and providing recommendations for reduced use of out-of-school discipline generally.
In pertinent part, the Act requires school officials to limit the number and duration of suspensions and expulsions to the greatest extent practicable, to use such measures only for legitimate educational purposes, and recommends that schools consider forms of non-exclusionary discipline prior to using out-of-school suspensions or expulsions. The main changes under the Act with which school districts and charter schools must comply are the following:
- Districts and charter schools must revise their discipline policies to comply with the Act as well as other applicable federal and state laws, and include a policy to facilitate reengagement of students who are suspended, expelled, or returning from alternative school settings.
- School boards may not institute zero-tolerance policies (unless otherwise required by federal law or the Illinois School Code).
- Students who are suspended must have an opportunity to make up work for equivalent academic credit.
- School officials are prohibited from advising or encouraging students to drop out voluntarily due to behavioral r academic difficulties.
- Monetary fines and fees shall not be used as a disciplinary consequences (restitution is permitted).
- Out of school suspensions of three days or less may be used only if the student’s continuing presence in school would pose a threat to school safety or a disruption to other students’ learning opportunities. These factors are determined on a case-by-case basis by the school board or its designee. School officials are required to make all reasonable efforts to resolve such threats, address such disruptions, and minimize the length of suspensions to the greatest extent practicable.
- Out-of-school suspensions of longer than three days, expulsions, and disciplinary removals to alternative schools must meet the criteria above for shorter suspensions. Additionally, such exclusions may only be used if other appropriate and available behavioral and disciplinary interventions have been exhausted (and documented). Students who are suspended out-of-school for more than four days must be provided appropriate and available support services, as determined by school officials.
- When the school board expels a student, it must give specific reasons why removing the student from the learning environment is in the best interests of the school and provide a rationale for the duration of the expulsion. It may refer students who are expelled to appropriate and available support services.
- The district or charter school must provide ongoing professional development to teachers, administrators, school board members, and resource officers on the adverse consequences of school exclusion and justice-system involvement, effective classroom management strategies, culturally responsive discipline, and developmentally appropriate disciplinary methods that promote positive and healthy school climates.
- Districts and charter schools are encouraged to create memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement agencies to define law enforcement’s role in schools.
Districts should review and revise their discipline policies, procedures, and staff development to prepare for implementation of the Act in the 2016-2017 school year.