Tune in to Everyday Law as Neal Takiff, of Whitted Takiff and Hansen, discusses new legislation in Illinois, directed at school discipline, and intended to balance out racial inequities in school law issues — including zero tolerance policies, suspension and expulsion standards and practices, and much more!

Neal Takiff, of Whitted, Takiff & Hansen, LLC (www.wthlawfirm.com), is an expert in education law. Mr. Takiff and his law firm represent families who require assistance in obtaining services for their children in school, and they represent school districts in matters of education. Representing both sides of education issues gives Takiff’s firm a unique position in the realm of school law. In this episode, Attorney Neal Takiff discusses a new disciplinary law that will become effective in Illinois on September 15, 2016.

Change from Zero Tolerance Policy for School Suspensions and Expulsions

Illinois Senate Bill 100, otherwise known as Public Act 99-0456, prohibits any school district from instituting a zero tolerance policy or standards (unless otherwise required by state or federal law). Zero tolerance policy means that student infractions of certain school rules require expulsion or suspension without exception and without any consideration of mitigating or individual circumstances. Zero tolerance policies have resulted in Illinois students being excluded from school without being afforded any educational opportunities for incidents such as insubordination or making a verbal statement; a penalty that can often be disproportionate to the infraction.

Rebalancing the Racial Inequality Effect of Zero Tolerance Standards

One of the motivating factors behind this new legislation is that zero tolerance policies resulted in racial inequality in the application of school discipline in Illinois. Too many children of color were being excluded from school, constricting their future opportunities. The move to change the rules and standards for suspensions and expulsions originated in the Chicago Public Schools.

The New Standards of Public Act 99-0456 for School Suspensions and Expulsions

One change to school discipline as a result of the passage of Public Act 99-0456 is that school districts must limit the use of suspension and expulsions to the greatest extent possible. Additionally, there is a recommendation that school officials consider other forms of discipline prior to using out of school suspensions and expulsions. The driving force behind these changes is for schools to develop discipline alternatives so that children are not sitting home without any educational services.

Specifically, out of school suspensions over 3 days are allowed only if other appropriate and available behavioral interventions have been exhausted and the student’s continuing presence in school poses a safety threat to other students, staff or members of the school community OR that student’s presence would substantially disrupt, impede or interfere with the operation of the school. Suspensions of 3 days or less are to be made on a case by case basis. Another important piece of this legislation is that suspended students have to be given the opportunity to make up school work missed due to their suspension.

Expelled students without an IEP (individualized education plan) often times would be expelled “to the streets”; that is, they had no guarantee for an alternative to continue their education. This new legislation provides that “regular education “students, without an IEP, will be offered the chance to attend a regional education safe school, if expelled. Again, the new legislation offers students more opportunities to continue their education and keep them off the streets. It could be argued that giving expelled students an educational alternative with services helps both the student and makes the community a safer place.

The Future of School Discipline in Illinois

This new legislation attempts to correct what many saw as the pendulum swinging too far in matters of school discipline in school districts with zero tolerance policies. Under the new law, school districts will be required to take a more reasonable and individualized approach to discipline as they explore all available and appropriate interventions in working with students. The next few years will reveal exactly how school districts will adapt to this change and will hopefully result in more students continuing their education as well as keeping schools and the community safe for everyone.