Urbana parents, staff unsatisfied with district's approach to discipline

Urbana parents, staff unsatisfied with district's approach to discipline

URBANA — Nearly a month into the school year, parents and staff are still looking to district administrators for solutions to discipline issues raised earlier this year.

After deciding to eliminate deans from the middle and high schools in March, administrators spent months providing reassurance to staff and parents who wondered if a new system — one focused on restorative practices — could be ready by August, or if it was the correct solution to problems of increased fighting and discipline issues.

Public comment during Tuesday's school board meeting reflected a community still grappling with that question.

"I don't feel safe sending my kid to UHS anymore," Angela Lusk told the board. "My child has come home with more reports of fights at the high school — it's becoming greater and more frequent."

Whether that could be attributed to the district's new policy, she said, she didn't know. But she added that she wasn't sure if she understood the policy at all, since she couldn't remember getting a physical copy.

"I am feeling that it's not working," she said.

Middle school teacher Chuck Koplinski echoed her comments, describing to the board a building plagued with violence despite the efforts of the support staff hired to replace the deans.

"I am here to tell you these new people you hired are working very hard, and they are very confused because they don't know what their role is," he said. "Students are ignoring them."

Kolpinsky detailed incident after incident, saying some middle school staffers who have attempted to break up fights have suffered broken bones.

"The middle school is no longer safe," he said. "We do not have an atmosphere of learning right now. We are waiting for the first fight to occur every day."

Tracy Welsh, restorative practices facilitator at the middle school, said while she supported the direction of the district, the transition had been far from seamless.

"We are a building in crisis right now," she said. "I love Urbana and I love our kids. I don't love what is happening in our building right now."

Welsh noted that suspensions for minor issues had declined sharply — a positive of the district's new focus. But, she added, students needed additional help for "stronger issues"— such as violence — that restorative practices alone weren't providing.

"We all went into this wanting to make a change for our children," she said. "But right now, we are letting our kids down."

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