Bibb school discipline numbers take a dip

Over the past five years, Bibb County schools have seen a sizable drop in discipline issues, from the number of suspensions to other infractions requiring punishment.

The number of in-school and out-of-school suspensions, as well as “other discipline actions” -- from after-school detention to sitting in a counselor’s office -- has decreased by more than 50 percent since 2010, according to data obtained from the school district through an Open Records Act request.

During the 2010-11 school year, for example, the school system had about 20,000 “discipline action counts” -- suspension or other types of punishment. That number had dropped to about 16,000 by 2013-14, and it now sits just below 9,000.

Ed Judie, the former assistant superintendent of student affairs, said he attributes some of the recent success to the start of the new Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program. That’s a new discipline system that rolled out in Bibb’s middle and high schools this year.

Anecdotally, he said, “there is some correlation” to PBIS and the downward trend of discipline issues. However, the school system will need much more time and data before it can credit the new program.

Before the start of the 2014-15 school year and the rollout of PBIS, Judie said, another important aspect was that the school system’s Code of Conduct was rewritten to reflect the PBIS framework and practices.

The program is about holding students responsible in a way that doesn’t deprive them of their education, he said.

That process starts with setting high expectations for all students, he said, then reinforcing those expectations throughout the school system.

“We can’t assume that our children are coming to school with the same middle-class values or expectations that are in most of our society,” he said. Regardless of a student’s family economic situation, he said, they need to be taught how to behave.

PBIS also entails analyzing the district’s discipline data to identify problem areas and trends.

For example, if a high number of disciplinary referrals appear to come from certain hallways during class changes, administrators look into why. A lack of supervision might be to blame, so a solution would be to post more teachers in those hallways.

In cases where there’s not a problem area, the school focuses its efforts on the individual student.

School discipline was a particular issue during the tenure of former school Superintendent Romain Dallemand. During the 2011-2012 school year, for example, the system dramatically reduced its use of expulsions, suspensions and the hearings used to consider tough punishments for students with repeated discipline problems. One result, critics said, was that more of those students remained in the classroom, often creating difficulties for teachers and other students.

The changes reflected the school district’s effort to avoid punishments that removed students from the classroom. At the time, however, some teachers and administrators said that they were discouraged from -- or even punished -- for sending students to the office or requesting disciplinary hearings.

Safe Havens International, a consulting firm hired to evaluate safety in Bibb County schools, issued a blistering report that took issue with the way the school system handled and tracked student discipline.

According to the most recent data from the school system, a majority of students that face disciplinary action do so for student incivility or disorderly conduct.

Incivility can range from a student talking back to a teacher or being disobedient when instructed to perform a task. Disorderly conduct implies a “more disruptive” action that generally involves animation and causes such a disturbance in the classroom that a teacher has to stop what he or she is doing to focus on the student.

Superintendent Curtis Jones has told The Telegraph about his experience with PBIS and the program’s effectiveness.

Jones was an assistant superintendent in Griffin-Spalding County school system when it adopted the program. It was one of the first school systems in the state to adopt the new system.

Before the program was implemented in 2009, Jones said, his system was among the top for most office referrals in the state. PBIS helped to drop the number of referrals from about 13,000 to fewer than 6,000.

The next step for Bibb schools will be to start PBIS in the elementary schools.

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.