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

School discipline reform advances

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Civil rights leaders will meet with the president of the Chicago Board of Education on Saturday, and high school students will meet with the executive director of a school “turnaround” group on Monday, with similar agendas – reducing student suspensions and increasing support for restorative justice.

The High Hopes Coalition [2], which includes civil rights and community organizations (more here [3]), will hold a public meeting with board president Mary Richardson Lowry (Saturday, April 2, 11 a.m., Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan) to present a plan to reduce suspensions and expulsions of CPS students by 40 percent next year.

The group wants Richardson Lowry to commit to reducing suspensions and implementing restorative justice in conjunction with community groups, with monthly reports on disciplinary measures made public.

They point to a guide to implementing restorative justice in schools (pdf [4]) issued recently by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Agency [5].

According to the guide, punitive approaches to school discipline including zero tolerance “do not educate students or resolve conflicts, and may even make schools less safe and cause further harm to students.”

Under such approaches, students of color tend to face disproportionately harsh punishments, according to the report – a point High Hopes has also made.

Reducing violence, dropout rate

Restorative justice defines accountability not as receiving punishment but as understanding the impact of one’s actions and taking responsibility; it “combines strict control and strong support,” and “may be more efficient at reducing violent incidents,” according to the ICJIA report.

It’s also a key strategy for reducing the dropout rate, said a High Hopes organizer.  “The number one factor for passing classes is attendance, and each suspension increases the chances of a student dropping out or failout out,” said Alex Wiesendanger of the Community Renewal Society [6].  “We need an approach that will keep youth in school and do something about issues that cause problems in the classroom.”

The guide identifies possible funding sources and strategies for integrating restorative justice into the existing disciplinary process.  It includes a “success story” from Kelvyn Park High School in Chicago.

Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity UCC, Rev. Dr. Calvin S. Morris of CRS, and Rev. Robert Biekman of Southlawn United Methodist Church will be presenting the group’s proposal.  Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and CPS interim chief Terry Mazany have also been invited to the event.

The Monday meeting between Orr students who are part of the Blocks Together Youth Council [7] and Donald Feinstein, executive director of the Academy of Urban School Leadership [8], follows up on a recent community meeting with new Orr principal Tyese Sims which was covered by Catalyst [9].  That meeting dealt with a large number of students who’d been “dropped” for extended absences as well as a stepped-up suspension policy at Orr.