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CPS: high suspension rate challenged

Parents and students will join coummunity and faith leaders to rally for reform of CPS’s disciplinary system tomorrow, with the launch of the High Hopes Campaign, (Saturday, November 13, 10:30 a.m. at First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613 W. Washington).

They’re calling on CPS to implement restorative justice programs in order to reduce suspensions and expulsions by 40 percent in the next year – and on mayoral candidates and the next CPS chief to make a commitment to provide resources for more effective discipline.

The campaign grows out of a symposium in April that looked at results of a study of suspensions and expulsions in CPS by Catalyst Chicago.

Catalyst found that “black male academic achievement is stunted by disproportionate and often unnecessary disciplinary measures.”  CPS leads the nation’s school systems in suspensions and expulsions, and African American students are twice as likely to be suspended and even more likely to be expelled, Catalyst found.

Last year 43,000 CPS students were suspended and 600 were expelled.

The same offenses often receive very different disciplinary responses, depending on who the student is, said Rev. Robert Biekman of Southlawn United Methodist Church, a member of the Community Renewal Society, which is backing the campaign.

Suspension not only puts students at risk of failing class; studies show it increases chances of dropping out and ending up in jail. And racial disparities in punitive school discipline feed into similar disparities in dropout  and incarceration rates, Biekman said.

In 2007, under pressure from parents groups, CPS changed its Student Code of Conduct to replace “zero tolerance” with restorative justice, which uses peer juries and peace circles to redress harms caused by misconduct.  But there’s been little follow-through, advocates say.

Implementing restorative justice would take “a push from the top so that principals and disciplinarians really latch on” and teachers and staff get training, said Lynn Morton of POWER-PAC, which is backing the campaign.

Working with POWER-PAC, Morton helped found the Austin Peace Center five years ago to implement restorative justice in two Austin elementary schools — and more recently at Wells High.  “It’s a slow process,” she said, but the schools have seen improved attendance, fewer disciplinary cases, and better grades.

With little support from top CPS leaders, the group has focused on a working with parents to bring restorative justice to their schools.  This year POWER-PAC published a parent-to-parent guide to restorative justice, and the group has trained a hundred parents in Lawndale and worked in several schools in other parts of the city.

“When parents learn about it they’re really enthusiastic,” Morton said.

In 2005 POWER-PAC held community hearings on school discipline issues and reported numerous cases of suspensions for minor misconduct (including failing to complete homework and being late for lunch) – with two-thirds of parents saying they were not informed of suspensions (pdf).

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Category: CPS, school discipline, schools


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