Efforts to increase equity in student discipline at Brainerd Public Schools are reflected in updated 2020-21 student handbooks board members approved Monday, July 13.

“The core of what we’ve changed this year focuses in three areas,” Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning, told the school board Monday.

The first two, smaller changes are updated meal and milk prices, depending on the yearly contract, and updates on building access at some of the elementary schools following the construction of secure entrances. Later in the meeting Monday, the board learned meal prices for the 2020-21 school year would remain the same.

The bulk of the changes, though, Murtha noted, deal with student discipline.

“And what we wanted to do there is pull together the existing beliefs about discipline functioning as a learning opportunity,” Murtha said. “We wanted to include elements of prevention and intervention and accountability because in order to make the learning opportunities, you have to set your learning targets, and you have to preload that. You have to do instruction around it.”

A 2018 report from the Minnesota Department of Human Resources analyzed five years of discipline data from the Minnesota Department of Education and found disparities based on race and disabilities. The report showed students of color comprise about 31% of the student population in Minnesota but receive 66% of suspensions and expulsions. It also showed students with disabilities comprise about 14% of the student population but receive 43% of all suspensions and expulsions.

New to the handbook for each school in the Brainerd School District this year is a framework to increase equity in school discipline.

The first step is prevention, which includes five categories to prevent the need for discipline in the first place:

  • Supportive relationships,

  • Bias-aware classrooms and respectful school environments,

  • Academic rigor based on the standards,

  • Cultural relevance, and

  • Opportunities for learning and correcting behavior.

The next step is intervention when discipline becomes necessary. This includes four steps:

  • Data-based inquiry for equity,

  • Problem-solving approaches to discipline,

  • Inclusion of student and family voices on conflicts’ causes and solutions, and

  • Reintegration of students after conflict or absence.

The final step is a multi-tiered support system for students.

“This would combine our social/emotional work as well as our discipline,” Murtha said, while continuing to focus on discipline as learning opportunities.

“This offers us the framework and some consistency to structure the conversations that need to occur at each site around the continuous improvement process,” he added. “So the language change here translates beyond this handbook to decisions sites make in the implementation of student policy and social/emotional learning.”

In other business Monday, the board:

Approved new hires: Brigid Bonda, child care program assistant for community education; Sabrina Dietrich, on-call child care program assistant for community education; Andrew Dwyer, video productions teacher at Brainerd High School; Emily Henderson, social studies teacher at BHS; Frances Jensvold, transportation assistant at Washington Educational Services Building; Brett Johnson, eighth grade art teacher at Forestview Middle School; and Eva Minerly, child care program assistant for community education.

Approved a field trip request for the girls varsity tennis team to attend the Lake Hubert Invite Aug. 30-31.

Approved an agreement with Pan-O-Gold Bakery for bread services for the 2020-21 school year.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.