Civil rights investigation sparks discussion on D211 discipline


Mila Brandson, Editor-in-Chief

Discipline in District 211 has recently received scrutiny from state officials. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul opened a civil rights investigation in May 2022 to examine discipline issues in D211. This action required records on student municipal ordinance violations, truancies, suspensions, expulsions, and transfers to alternative schools to be submitted for review. Data released from the public records request appears to show racial disparities in disciplinary action and ticketing. 

This inquiry was filed after a Chicago Tribune and ProPublica investigation titled “The Price Kids Pay” displayed racial disparities in student ticketing across Illinois. According to the database published as a part of this investigation, Black and Latino D211 students received police referrals more often than white students. Typically these referrals result in student ticketing and a monetary fine.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, “Black and Latino students together received about 65% of the roughly 470 tickets police have issued to high school students since the start of the 2018-19 school year.”

A ProPublica District Composition database that collected information from years prior to the 2018-2019 school year found similarly striking disparities. The analysis found that Black students were 5.4 times as likely to be suspended as White students in District 211, and when only looking at Fremd, this ratio increased to 9.8 times. 

The investigation results have yet to be released, and further action from the Illinois Attorney General has yet to be taken. However, Fremd Principal Mark Langer explains that the district’s approach to discipline has undergone notable changes within recent years to recognize the need to support students of all backgrounds. 

“You’ll hear a lot of times the phrase ‘restorative justice,’ in terms of how do we build, keep our relationships, and build stronger relationships with our students?” Langer said. “I’ve seen a positive impact on how our students interact through that process.”

Superintendent Dr. Lisa Small echoed the idea of emphasizing individual student needs as an integral part of the discipline process. 

“It’s very rare that something brings [a] student to the intervention office on an incident, [and] that it’s just a solo little box around that incident,” Small said. “There’s usually a whole series of events or experiences that the student has had, that the box isn’t really the hall pass violation. There’s a whole big box behind it.” 

To reduce bias, the D211 Equity Team was created in the 2020-2021 school year to design the D211 Equity Plan. In response to parent and student feedback, this agenda sets standards for equity within the district and has outlined steps to involve students and staff in the efforts for improvement. 

In addition to forming student and staff equity committees, D211 Board Member Tim McGowan explains that Panorama Surveys have also provided crucial data on student wellness and opinions on equity in the district. 

“Students now have a direct outlet to approach and kind of voice their concerns,” McGowan said. “And because they’re able to do that, the district is able to kind of tackle these things relatively quickly and even efficiently at this point.” 

Other D211 School Board members were contacted but did not respond to a request for comment.

As the district continues to navigate equity and inclusion, open discussion between students and staff continues to provide insight into the educational climate and mitigate unfair treatment.

Fremd senior Jair Herrera highlighted the goal of persistent growth in the school environment and procedures.

“To improve equity and discipline is just communication with students,” Herrera said. “There’s always prejudice present, but acknowledging it and building skills and assets amongst employees and other workers at the school to recognize prejudice and to work against it will help us build a stronger community.”