With Chicago described as one of the nation’s “dropout epicenters” by Education Week, young people here are saying the dropout problem may be more of a “pushout” problem.
Two events Saturday will feature youth activists as part of a national week of activities to bring attention to the “school pushout crisis” and advocate for “the human right of every young person to a quality education.”
On Saturday morning, young people from Blocks Together  (Humboldt Park), the Young Women’s Action Team  (Rogers Park), MAGIC  (Woodlawn), Gender Just , the Chicago Freedom School , and the Korean Resource and Cultural Center  will participate in a panel discussion of the “school to prison pipeline” sponsored by the Project Nia  and the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan, (Saturday, October 16, 9:30 a.m. to noon).
Starting at 1 p.m. the Southwest Youth Collaborative  hosts a Day of Expression with youth workshops on education rights, the pushout crisis and the school-to-prison pipeline, with an open mike following at 6 to 9 p.m. at 2749 W. 63rd.
Earlier this week Blocks Together held a “mock trial” of CPS over failed disciplinary policies and school pushouts.
School pushouts in Chicago can be the direct result of policies like zero tolerance discipline or “shifting enrollment policies with the privatization of schools,” and can also be the indirect result of lack of resources, including teacher layoffs and larger class sizes, said Blocks Together youth organizer Ana Mercado.
“They only have two social workers at Orr High School, and that’s not meeting children’s needs,” she said. “When you call it a dropout problem, you blame the students for the system’s failings.”
The events are being coordinated with the Dignity in Schools Campaign , a national coalition including the ACLU , Children’s Defense Fund , NAACP Legal Defense Fund , and the Southern Poverty Law Center , along with local organizations, aimed at “refram[ing] the debate around school discipline from one that favors the punishment and exclusion of children and youth who have been failed by unsafe and underperforming schools to one based on human rights — respecting every child’s right to an education.”
According to DISC, expulsions in Illinois schools increased by 44 percent from 2000 to 2006, with black students far more likely to be expelled than others.
Chicago students and activists joined DISC in Washington D.C. at the end of September to lobby Congress to include funding for restorative justice programs and require collection of school climate and disciplinary data in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
DISC has also urged states to use federal stimulus grants to schools for alternative discipline programs.
In Chicago, groups like DISC member Alternatives  and others have instituted alternative disciplinary programs in individual schools and have pressed for including restorative justice in the CPS discipline code.
Blocks Together is currently piloting training based on restorative justice for security guards at Banner School; security guards are responding enthusiastically, Mercado said.