March 30, 2022: Committee of the Whole Meeting Recap

The agenda for this meeting can be found here. The bulk of the time focused on an extremely informative presentation on Significant Disproportionality from Megan Dennis, Director of Pupil Services and Justin Brown, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Significant Disproportionality

In December of 2016, the IDEA laws were changed to require states to develop a standard methodology to identify any areas of significant disproportionality. The purpose of doing this is to identify practices that have a disproportionately negative impact on certain racial or ethnic groups.

Three areas are being looked at specifically:

  • Identification of students with disabilities
  • Placement of students
  • Incidence, duration, or type of disciplinary actions

How is it measured?

In Pennsylvania, a Risk Ratio analysis was developed in the form of a simple formula:

Risk of Risk group divided by the Risk of a Comparison Group.

Risk= students impacted divided by the total students


If, out of 400 African American Special Ed students, 40 of them received In-school suspension, while only 20 out of 800 Special Ed students who are not African American received the same disciplinary action, the risk ratio works out to be 4.0. 

The Risk ratio thresholds that were identified for schools to not exceed are as follows:

  • Identification: 3.0
  • Placement: 3.0
  • Disciplinary action: 2.5

The state came up with these thresholds after surveys, focus groups and other research.

What happens when you break the threshold?

Any school district that is found to be above the threshold for three consecutive years is cited and needs to take action to correct this disproportionality. 15% of IDEA part B funds need to be set aside to develop CCEIS (Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services), and practices and policies need to be reviewed, among other potential actions.

What were we cited for? Disciplinary actions in the form of Total Removals

Total removals include in-school and out of school suspensions, expulsions, any removal from the classroom for safety reasons. We were not cited for in-school suspensions or expulsions and out of school suspensions greater than 10 days alone; while we did break those thresholds for both in school years 18-19 and 19-20, we did not not in 20-21, so this set us back to zero for both areas. However, we did still break the threshold for the third year in a row regarding total removals, so this is where we received a citation.

What is the negative impact of exclusionary disciplines?

Excluding a student from the classroom leads to widened achievement gaps, reduced desire for higher education, creates a negative perception of school, and limits their access to lessons during their time outside of class. 

What are we doing to fix this issue?

We started in the 2019-20 school year with a full review of code of conduct and disciplinary actions at all levels. In 2021-22, PBIS training (Positive behavior interventions and support) for all three high schools began to help build a supportive culture and relationships and encourage students to make good choices. This will continue next school year as well.

Behavioral screening was increased in K-8, with teachers filling out surveys at all grade levels and also adding in some self assessment in grades 3-8. This allows earlier intervention to be provided to at-risk students before they become a behavior problem. Early intervention staff were also added.

Culturally responsive Professional Development training was provided for the staff. This started in 2021-2022 with Blind Spot training and Crucial and Courageous Conversations. It is continuing next school year with Bystander Intervention, i.e. what to do when you see something happening, and Restorative Practices training to enable teachers to help build and restore relationships that may have been damaged by any incident.

Level Up is a program that came out of the Student Success subcommittee as part of the Cultural Equity Task Force as a way to help students who fall into the achievement gap. Phase one is connecting them with a student in their first six weeks of school to help them feel like they are in a safe space, regardless of their background, lived experiences or how they identify. Phase two connects them with a club and/or teacher that can act as a mentor throughout their high school time, help monitor their academic achievement and can refer them for additional help from an intervention specialist if need be.

Questions from the Board

It was asked if there has been any positive outcome from the actions that have been taken so far. Ms. Dennis said that the behavioral screenings have enabled the school district to identify some kids and refer them earlier for intervention, which has been very positively received. They have also heard from the staff that due to the PBIS and Blind Spot training, when they do have to hand out disciplinary action, they do so with this lens in mind. Great job, DEI and Pupil Services!

It was asked about parent notification for screeners. Ms. Dennis said that the screeners are happening around October and principals are notifying parents at the beginning of the year and enabling them to opt out their children if they want.

It was also asked about line item transparency for how CCEIS money is spent and it was answered that the business office does share this with the state.

Director MacNeal asked if any clubs or extracurriculars could be offered during the day so that any kids without transportation can participate, as this would be an equity issue for them. Mr. Brown responded that this was in fact a problem that could possibly be addressed as high school times and schedules change if later start times are adopted. Director MacNeal said that Mr. Brown certainly has a very big job. Director Bertone suggested that although a true activity bus cannot be considered, possibly bus service could be provided to take kids from their high schools back to their elementary schools so that they can at least get closer to home and their own neighborhoods.

Director MacNeal wanted to know if teachers are being enabled to interact well with students who might be used to interacting with adults differently at home. Mr. Brown said that this is part of Blind spot training, which discusses implicit bias. The definition of a bystander came up with regard to whether or not a teacher would be considered a bystander. Mr. Brown said that for the purpose of the upcoming bystander training, a bystander is defined as anyone witnessing an event. This would include teachers and staff, not just students. The training will come directly from Mr. Brown. Assessment of results will come in the form of a decrease of incidents and how students feel the culture of the school has changed.

Bottom Line

We found this presentation interesting in part because it is a way to put a hard number on how different groups could be living different experiences here in Downingtown. Before, we were listening to stories and there was always a subjective element to it. This is cold hard data that is hard to ignore. What the reasons are for more children of color receiving exclusionary disciplines remains to be seen. But the first step to fixing the problem is to identify it, and in spite of having received a citation for it, this is a very positive step. We look forward to seeing more actions taken to help any kids who might be at risk for becoming behavior problems, and to seeing less kids being forced to leave school because of disruptions.

Wit and Wisdom ELA Curriculum

Some background on Wit and Wisdom ELA curriculum was asked of Dr. Chance. He said that it would be implemented in the 2023 school year; while it is not a comprehensive program, it does fit nicely with Fundations from Wilson and Geodes (among other programs) which we already use, so there will not be any areas which are not covered. 

Dr. Macneal said that she was concerned that it might be very challenging for some and there was some criticism of the program and its possible inclusion of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Dr. Chance said that these claims were made in Tennessee and Virginia and are not true, and they are simply references to non-fiction lessons that use moments of the civil rights movement as part of a cross-curricular approach. 

Director Miller asked for transparency because CRT has come up with Wit and Wisdom numerous times. Dr. Chance said that parents will be able to see the texts if they want to request them but they will not be going home as a rule. Copies may be able to be made available in the library.

This item will be voted on next week.

Other action agenda items for next week

  • Two new clubs at East high school were requested: a Desi Student Union and a Korean Culture Club.
  • $2.1 million payment for charter schools
  • The rest of the voting items were not discussed in detail but are available on the agenda linked above

Public comment

One parent had a vague comment about bad policy having consequences. She used the sixth grade center state assessment scores as an example and said that they indicated that many students are behind; she also broke down the percentages by demographic. She said that in the future policies should be made with these kinds of consequences in mind.

One parent said that she was not asking for books to be banned, but wants to have books with explicit content and graphic images removed. She would like to know how a diverse group of parents were chosen to deem Gender Queer to have educational value, and then read a couple of pages from the book to demonstrate that it was explicit and should not be in the school library.

Another parent pointed out that books like The Thornbirds have a lot of explicit content and yet are considered classic literature and have been required reading in the past. The books in the library being discussed are not required reading, they are simply available for kids to check out if they want (and they are not even checked out that frequently). She mentioned that her third grader wanted to learn more about Juneteenth and did some reading on his own; it did not lead him to feel bad about being white, but he wants to learn anyway so that mistakes of the past are not repeated.

One parent thanked Directors Brown and Dennis for their work in DEI to prepare our students for a diverse workforce, and said that the community stands behind DEI work.

One parent said that out of school suspension is a waste, and if we are being penalized for suspending kids for more than ten days, then we should make it nine days. He feels like Equity  programs do not empower people to rise up, they just lower standards. Last, he would like to get rid of terms like white privilege and whiteness because it upsets people and tears them down.

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