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With behavior referrals on rise in Carroll elementary schools, task force presents findings, recommendations

A graph presented by the Elementary Behavior Task Force to the Carroll County Board of Education shows the number of major referrals for behavior at the elementary level over 10 years.
A graph presented by the Elementary Behavior Task Force to the Carroll County Board of Education shows the number of major referrals for behavior at the elementary level over 10 years. (Courtesy Photo)

The number of major behavior referrals in Carroll County elementary schools increased by 79 percent in four years according to statistics the Elementary Behavior Task Force presented to the Board of Education on Wednesday evening.

The task force, formed by Carroll County Public Schools, found that major referrals for behavior have not only increased markedly, but a small group of students are showing behavior concerns more frequently and with greater intensity. Students in poverty and students in special education programs were demographics of concern for focusing resources, the task force told the Board.

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“The committee’s recommendations primarily focus on students with intense needs, while enhancing overall behavioral supports,” they said in the presentation.

They made four recommendations.

The first was focusing on direct services through behavioral and mental health staffing and smaller class sizes if possible.

The second was pointing out the importance of professional development for teachers to gain behavioral, mental health and cultural proficiency training.

For the third recommendation, the committee pointed out the importance of family support. One suggestion was to continue referring families to community services and programs.

The fourth focus was on classroom instruction and the inclusion of social emotional learning as part of elementary school learning.

Kim Muniz, supervisor of mental and behavioral health, stressed to the Board that there was much more data collected by the task force than what could be shared in one work session. The data they highlighted was tied to their recommendations.

“Major referrals” are defined as incidents in which a student is sent out of the classroom and an administrator assigns a consequence.

Such referrals dropped between 2009-10 and 2013-14 from 3,054 to 2,734, but have increased each year since, totaling 4,886 in 2017-18.

Muniz said they believed some of the uptick was due to more reporting and not necessarily more behavior incidents.

Looking at referrals for physical behaviors, the majority of students who had a referral had just one in a school year. But some 250 had multiple referrals for physical behaviors, including 79 with six or more. More than 90% of students had none at all.

A graph provided by the Elementary Behavior Committee groups students by the number of major referrals for a physical behavior.
A graph provided by the Elementary Behavior Committee groups students by the number of major referrals for a physical behavior. (Courtesy Photo)

The numbers also found that a greater number of physical behavior referrals took place for students in the Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) program or who received special education support than for students who did not receive either. Some students receive both.

The committee members also spoke about how there were many factors that they couldn’t track like the effects of nutrition, screen time and technology or the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Board of Education President Donna Sivigny said after the presentation that the findings supported the school system’s desire to budget for more positions in the schools.

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In the first budget proposal made by Superintendent Steve Lockard to the county for financial year 2020, the school system proposed adding 29 new positions, some of which included special education resource teachers, elementary school academic specialists, school psychiatrists and intervention specialists. These were removed from the budget before it passed.

Board member Marsha Herbert said she had been stunned by the cost of 29 new positions in the budget proposal, but felt the best course going forward is that, “we need to chisel away at that year after year.”

"Dr. Lockard, make that list,” she said.

The Elementary Behavior Task Force was formed in the summer of 2018 because of anecdotal evidence that there were more behavioral problems of a serious nature occurring in the elementary schools. The system considered re-purposing some teaching positions as behavioral specialists, but wanted the task force to consider whether the data supported that action.

The goal of the task force was to look into root causes of behavioral problems based on data that the school system could collect. They were then tasked with making recommendations for supports and interventions. They were asked to consider actions that would be feasible based on the school system’s financial limitations.

Muniz made clear in the presentation that there are already many programs and strategies in place in CCPS and the task force was not the only group addressing student behavior concerns.

The task force was made up of about 25 members who met monthly during the 2018-19 school year.

Dana Falls was the chair of the task force. Following his retirement, Muniz took over that responsibility. Other members include Cindy McCabe, who was at that time director of elementary schools; Judy Klinger, supervisor of school counseling; Sivigny as the Board’s representative; elementary school principals; teachers, special education specialists; representatives from community programs; and parents.

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