- Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop - http://www.newstips.org -

CPS Discipline Code Revised — Slightly

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This summer CPS administrators extended the annual review of the Uniform Discipline Code in order to consider recommendations from a community task force on school discipline.

Few of the group’s recommendations were adopted, but members say they’ll continue to press for alternatives to out-of-school suspensions and less reliance on expulsions and arrests. They plan to pilot alternative discipline programs in elementary schools. And with CPS support, the citywide parent group POWER-PAC is preparing parents’ guides to the UDC in English and Spanish.

Azim Ramelize, assistant commissioner of children and youth services for the city and convener of the Community School Justice Task Force, expressed strong disappointment with the UDC revision. Other task force members are encouraged by the prospect of continuing discussions with CPS staff on the subject.

The major change recommended by the task force and adopted by the Board of Education last month was nominal: the group recommended dropping the word “Uniform” from the code’s title, since it gives some parents the impression that the document is a dress code; the Board added the words “Student Code of Conduct” as a subtitle.

More significantly, the task force recommended replacing out-of-school suspensions with in-school programs based on principles of “restorative justice,” in which offenders redress the harm done to their victims and receive support to get back on track.

They also recommended removing language suggesting police notification and arrest for various types of misconduct. The board changed language allowing police notification to say “police notification not required,” according to Kellie Magnuson of POWER-PAC.

A March 2005 report depicted the CPS code as exceptional for specifying misconduct that is subject to arrest. The Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C. racial justice think tank, reported that over 8000 students were arrested in CPS schools in 2003 — almost 10 percent of them aged 12 and under, and some as young as 7 — and that a majority of cases “did not involve serious crimes.”

The report included the case of students arrested for having a snowball fight.

Most cases of in-school arrests are dropped before trial, and only a small number result in convictions, according to Advancement Project figures. A significant number go to court diversion programs which are based on restorative justice.

“We get those cases,” said Cheryl Graves of the Community Justice for Youth Initiative, which runs Community Panels for Youth in seven Chicago communities. Extensive educational and criminal justice resources could be saved — and many fewer youth pushed out of the school system — if CPS would adopt in-school conflict resolution practices already favored by police and prosecutors, she said. And restorative justice programs would help “create a positive school environment” and “give parents a constructive role” in discipline issues, she added.

“It’s so clear that there are viable alternatives,” said Graves. “It’s not acceptable that these kids are being pushed out of school.”

The Advancement Project report said CPS is “infamous” for harsh disciplinary practices that “exclude thousands of students from the classroom each year” and constitute “a schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track that is ravaging this generation.” Suspensions in CPS have tripled in the last ten years, and expulsions have soared from 95 in 1995 to an estimated 3,000 in 2003-2004, according to the report.

Graves said CJYI is working with POWER-PAC groups in Austin and Englewood to train parents in restorative justice conferencing, and POWER-PAC is seeking CPS support to pilot a range of alternative discipline programs in seven elementary schools.

Task force members will give a presentation on restorative justice at the annual citywide conference of school discipline staff in October, and CPS will offer expanded trainings on the Uniform Discipline Code for parents, Magnuson said.

POWER-PAC is also seeking a statement from CPS encouraging elementary schools to reestablish recess and noting the benefits for education and classroom discipline.