Illinois schools are overhauling the way they discipline students, and Lyons Elementary School District 103 is already making changes. Senate Bill 100, passed Aug. 24 by the Illinois General Assembly, requires schools to revamp their discipline procedures, including eliminating “zero-tolerance” policies.

George Washington Middle School Principal Paul Bleuher told the school board Aug. 27 he is making a change in the student discipline process and saving money by getting rid of the school’s time-out classroom, called the “alternative school.”

Bleuher said he was opting not to replace the resigning teacher who had been in charge of the alternative school for the past year. The aide who worked in the classroom will be reassigned, he said.

Bleuher said sending misbehaving students out of the classroom was an outdated discipline model.

“Positive behavior relationships begin in the classroom,” he told the board. “If discipline happens down the hall, that gives the power to someone else other than the teacher.”

Bleuher said the room had grown into a catch-all location, where children could make up on missing homework or have a time-out. The room was in use almost every day, including Saturdays, he said, but that didn’t match up with the number of serious discipline infractions, which are very rare. 

Recent studies on student discipline show “punitive measures don’t work,” Bleuher said.

“I’m not naïve, I’ve been in middle school for 12 years,” he said. 

“I understand [the alternative school] has a cultural significance in the district,” he added. “In the worst-case scenario, we’ll still have the classroom there.”

Bleuher said in extreme situations, disruptive students would spend time in the office with assistant principals. They would have interventions with the district social workers, “to unpack what just happened.”

But board member Joanne Schaeffer said the alternative school was created by the board in lieu of out-of-school suspension. 

“I don’t want to see that you have a fight upstairs and a fight downstairs and someone writing on the wall that they’re going to bomb the school,” Schaeffer said.

“That’s extremely rare,” Bleuher said. “The culture is wonderful here. I’d invite any board member to tour the school.”

Interim Superintendent Kyle Hastings pointed out Senate Bill 100 was going to require the district to rebuild discipline protocols. 

“I think this is a proactive response, and we need good and fresh ideas,” Hastings said.

Former board member Deanna Viti-Huxhold said she thought Bleuher was rushing too soon to make a change. She said the alternative school classroom was a way to show middle schoolers when they made poor decisions that “actions have consequences,” and keep disruptive students from monopolizing teachers’ attention. She said students were sent to a classroom, not to the office before, because “they could hear all the office gossip.”

“Did the alternative school room need to be tweaked? Absolutely. There were clearly some teachers who were abusing the system,” Viti-Huxhold said.

But she complained the new program would “push back discipline problems to the classroom teachers.”

Bleuher said the room had outlived its usefulness and was not even used as the board had originally set it up.

“Current research and best practices has proven zero-tolerance and punitive measures don’t work. They’re just not effective,” Bleuher said. 

“Our job as social-emotional teachers is as important as math and reading teachers,” he added. “Some students are dealing with extremely challenging life situations. There are better ways to deal with that.”