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Ill. Inquiry Finds District's Discipline Policy Unfair

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Springfield, Ill--Minority students in the Peoria school district are paddled more frequently than their white classmates, according to a report to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The report's data from 10 of Peoria's 32 elementary schools revealed "that the schools with the higher minority enrollments had substantially more instances of corporal punishment and greater proportions of their students receiving corporal punishment than schools with lower minority enrollments."

The report, prepared by the board's staff, is part of a continuing investigation of the district's discipline policies.

[Studies have shown that disproportionate numbers of minority and low-income students are often involved in corporal punishment cases, according to Irwin Hyman, director of the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives in the Schools. It is quite common for elementary schools to permit corporal punishment, which is generally a local option. Four states allow no corporal punishment, Mr. Hyman said.]

Peoria Superintendent of Schools Harry Whitaker denied that the district's discipline enforcement has racial overtones and reiterated his belief that the board's continuing investigation represents a vendetta against the school system stemming from past disagreements over desegregation policies.

"I think we're treating all kids fairly," Mr. Whitaker said. And he said the district would not alter its discipline policies unless ordered by a court to do so.

According to the staff report, the result of a three-day visit to the dis-trict in November, there is evidence of differential treatment in Peoria schools.

Minority students represented 54 percent of the enrollment in the 10 elementary schools examined but were involved in 75 percent of the incidents of corporal punishment, according to the report. In schools with high black populations, minority students received as much as 93 percent of the paddling.

Increased Suspensions

Similarly, in studying suspensions at Peoria high schools, the staff found that "as the minority enrollment in high schools increases, so does the number of suspensions."

Although they constituted a third of high-school enrollments districtwide, minority students accounted for 56 percent of suspensions, the study revealed.

At the elementary level, 79.2 per-cent of suspensions involved minority students, the staff reported.

The staff noted that certain safeguards were followed when administering corporal punishment, including limiting the daily number of swats per student, telling students why they were being punished, paddling students in private with a witness present, and making a record of each instance of corporal punishment.

But it also found several "areas of concern":

Parents are not told by the district that they have an option to object to corporal punishment for their children.

The district has not developed a uniform set of rules governing paddling.

The district lacks inservice activities for teachers to help develop alternative discipline programs.

The staff also reported that 40 percent of corporal-punishment cases occurred in 2nd grade or below and that the number of corporal punishment instances rose dramatically as the week wore on.

The issue of corporal punishment has become a controversial one in Illinois, with teachers in some districts pushing for stricter discipline policies.

The superintendent of Springfield's school district--which is roughly the size of Peoria's--has resisted requests by teachers for permission to paddle students.

Such a policy, Superintendent Donald Miedema fears, could lead to disparate treatment of minority students.

The board began its investigation into discipline policies, as well as special-education placements, nearly a year ago after receiving petitions from more than 100 Peoria residents complaining of alleged racially-motivated abuse of students.

The staff reported progress by the district in improving procedures relating to special-education placement and instruction.

Mr. Gill said a final report and recommendations would be presented to the board in June.

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