Huntsville City Schools hosts series of community meetings about Behavioral Learning Department

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville City Schools leaders hope to keep everyone on the same page about discipline in the school system.

Monday, the school system is hosted a meeting focused on the Behavioral Learning Department, which oversees the Behavioral Learning Guide. The BLG is a tool for teachers and staff to use to determine outcomes for poor behavior.

The student conduct guide got a reboot before this school year, and system leaders want to provide school communities with an overview of the changes and the rest of the Behavioral Learning Department to "promote and support a positive school climate."

The department also oversees multiple programs to help students, which leaders believe will have a positive effect on discipline. These include Problem Solving Teams, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), Alternative Behavior Educator (ABE), and restorative panels.

"That [the department] addresses behavior, not just the end result-- which is the discipline end of it," said Donna Clark, Behavioral Learning Coordinator.

Clark recently entered this role.

She said for her, it's about more than discipline.

"I don't want discipline to be our focus. Because if that becomes our focus, that's all we think about and it's all we do," she said. "I want numbers to go down, but what I want to do is help students. And they're going to make mistakes. They're going to make poor choices. And our goal-- my department's goal-- is to help them learn from those mistakes."

Tonight's meeting was open to all members of the general public.

However, only five people (including school board member, Michelle Watkins) chose to attend.

Clark said attendance has been fluctuating over the course of the series of meetings. Monday's at Mae Jemison High School was the third of five scheduled.

"I'm disappointed obviously in the number," she said. "I mean, I really hope that folks would come out and learn about the programs that we have."

Discipline affects every child. It is also the area where in a recent status conference in US District Court, the US Department of Justice said it had received the most community concerns in the effort to make Huntsville City Schools a fair and equitable system.

In that same status conference, the school system acknowledged there are still gaps in how racial groups are disciplined.

Discipline remains a big part of the consent order, which Huntsville City Schools and the DOJ agreed on as the path forward toward unitary status.

The Behavioral Learning Guide is a key component to unification, and remains a "living document" that school system administrators change as a result of criticism, feedback, and research. It was originally created as a remedy to a flawed Code of Conduct. They were revised at the end of last school year.

This year, the school system began using Restorative Panel Meetings as an initiative to cut down on expulsions. For students' first infraction that goes to the level of expulsion, a principal may refer a student to participate in the voluntary program. The student, administrator, parent, and possible victim of a student's actions attend the meetings.

Clark says these meetings are working.

"We've been talking with students about repairing that harm that they've done or caused. We ask students a whole series of questions: what were you thinking when you did that, what have you thought about since then, how has this affected your school, how has this affected your family?" she said. "Our goal is to restore and repair relationships. We know students and adults as well make mistakes. The whole point is for everybody to learn from that behavior and give the students the possibility, in lieu of expulsion, a chance to work through a restorative practice."

She said out of the students who have come through restorative panels this year, most students have not had any other infractions since then.

ABE (Alternative Behavioral Educator) is a web-based tool for students to use during in-school suspension.

"They are going to receive some work on addressing the behavior that got them in ISS," said Clark.

The Problem-Solving Team for behavior will help guide intervention services for students with academic or behavioral difficulties, said Clark. The students will receive interventions that match their needs.

Clark believes all these changes, along with the new BLG and accompanying matrices, can help reduce the amount of disciplinary action schools need to take. It will take time to see this reflected in data, the school system has previously admitted.

If you missed this meeting and would like to attend another, there are two more in the series:

  • Monday, October 30 at the Columbia High School library, 5:30-6:30 PM
  • Thursday, November 2 at the Grissom High School Library, 5:30-6:30 PM