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Parents Win Alternative Discipline Pilot

5-31-05 — CPS president Michael Scott agreed to pilot alternative discipline programs in elementary schools during a meeting with a citywide parents group on May 20.

But asked about restoring recess in elementary schools, Scott reiterated the CPS position that recess should be a reward for achievement and abruptly left the meeting.

Earlier this year Scott asked POWER-PAC to hold hearings, collect testimony and compile recommendations, after the group complained about excessive reliance on suspensions in elementary schools.

The group reported that parents consider suspensions to be counterproductive, saying they “contributed directly to their children’s alienation from school and ultimately to school failure,” according to a report issued by POWER-PAC May 20. While the number of suspensions is growing dramatically for children in kindergarten and early grades, young children do not understand the punishment, according to the report.

A large proportion of parents felt their children’s suspensions were inappropriate, and the report notes the “lack of due process in the decision to suspend.” In addition, two-thirds of parents whose children had been suspended said they were not officially notified of the action.

The group recommended endling out-of-school suspensions except as a last resort; reinstating recess in elementary schools and ending “silent lunches”; pilot testing discipline prevention programs such as conflict resolution and “restorative justice” programs; and including parents and youth in school and system-wide discipline oversight committees.

They said schools that have restored recess have noted improved student behavior in the classroom.

POWER-PAC requested meetings with CPS staff who are reportedly revising the Uniform Discipline Code. The group wants less reliance on suspensions and punitive discipline — and less reliance on criminal arrests for in-school misconduct, policies which they say push children out of school.

“Instead of harsh actions that are punishing our kids and making them feel bad about themselves, we need programs that teach kids why their actions are wrong and encourage them not to repeat it,” said POWER-PAC leader Lynn Morton

[UPDATE – A coalition of parents and community groups in North Lawndale is calling for an examination of CPS policy giving principals authority to call police at their discretion. At a  (10 a.m.) at Mason Elementary School, 1830 S. Keeler, the North Lawndale Accountability Commission and others are denouncing “the criminalization of black students by involving police in routine discipline matters.”

According to Derrick Harris of NLAC, over 250 students have been arrested by police for in-school misconduct at Mason. Harris said he witnessed two fifth-grade girls being arrested for fighting at Mason on Friday, June 3; another community activist was also arrested in that incident when he sought to intervene with police.

“It’s just unfair,” said Harris. “I wish you could see these children’s faces. They’re devastated.”

A report on arrests of students in Chicago and other cities, released this spring by the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C., said the CPS is unusual among school districts because its discipline code specifies behaviors that may result in arrest. In-school arrests have increased dramatically in Chicago, with 10 percent of over 8,000 arrests in 2003 involving children 12 and under, according to “Education Under Lockdown” (www.accountabilityproject.org) – and Black children are treated morre harshly than others, according to the report.

For more: Derrick Harris, North Lawndale Accountability Commission, 312-437-1414]

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Category: CPS, school discipline

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