Huntsville school board members demand new data on discipline, recount teacher struggles

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - In the wake of the discipline report that continues to show major racial disparities, Huntsville City School Board Member Walker McGinnis told Interim Superintendent Tom Drake he expects new data by next month.

"I don't get upset if I see things going up if I know why," McGinnis said at Thursday's school board meeting.

Huntsville City Schools has worked through multiple codes of conduct, seeking to reduce the overall number of punishments that take students out of the classroom.

A key focus in that strategy are alternative discipline approaches called interventions. That's what McGinnis wants data for. "We need to have a report documenting what interventions we've been using and how successful they've been. I'm sure with all the reports we have to give to DoJ about discipline that we've got that data somewhere."

But the Director of Behavioral Learning Linda Burruss says it's not possible to track if interventions work. "BLOOM does not allow us to see if the actual intervention worked," she said.

Part of that is because intervention strategies should be specifically tailored to individual students. She gives the example of a troubled student that wanted to learn boxing. "They, some kind of way, found a boxing instructor that is now that student's mentor. That's the type of intervention they're using for him."

McGinnis suggests tracking how many students who wind up with severe punishments like suspension and expulsion have repeat offenses for the same things.

Burruss agreed, "We can go back and do the offenses, if they were repeat offenses and how many."

McGinnis turned to the interim superintendent in the meeting a said, "That'd give you a clue , and if you don't mind, Mr. Drake, I'd like to hear that report next month."

In the course of the discussion, Board Member Pam Hill reminds that it's not just students impacted by discipline policies, "I've even heard from a mother today whose daughter is a teacher and wants to commit suicide. Teachers in general do not feel this is working, because there is so much pressure on them to perform and to get the students to learn."

While the behavioral learning guide lays out alternative approaches to discipline that don't remove students from classrooms, the guide leans heavily on teachers to employ those techniques.

"There's too much pressure in the classroom to be sure everyone's needs are met, and you're asking the teachers to spend a lot of time with those that act out the most," said Hill.

Clearly the board still has major concerns about the way the district handles discipline.