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School-to-jail march targets CPS suspension rates

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With new research once again confirming that CPS leads the nation in school suspensions — including suspension rates for special education students – youth groups will protest the “school pushout crisis” and the “school-to-prison pipeline” tomorrow.

CPS students and parents from Blocks Together [2] and Access Living [3]‘s Advance Youth Leadership Power, along with other community groups, will hold a press conference at Crane High School, 2245 W. Jackson, at 12:15 p.m. (Saturday, September 29) and march to the Audy Home juvenile detention center, 1100 S. Hamilton.

Youth activists want to physically dramatize the school-to-prison pipeline by marching from a school to a detention center, said Ana Mercado of BT.

Crane also represents “a neighborhood school that was underresourced for years before it was put on the list to be phased out,” she said.  “We see school closings as one of many forms of student pushout.”  (Other “pushout” factors include suspensions and expulsions, lack of social workers and counselors, and a curriculum heavily geared toward performance on standardized tests.)

At the Audy Home, activists will discuss efforts to reform the Cook County Juvenile Justice system.

CPS leads in suspensions

Illinois had the largest gap between black and white suspension rates of any state, as well as the highest rate of suspensions for black students with disabilities, in a new report [4] from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

CPS led urban districts by a wide margin in the percent of black male students with disabilities who were suspended at least once – a whopping 72.5 percent.

That caught the attention of activists in AYLP, a disability-rights youth leadership group, said organizer Candace Coleman.  AYLP and Blocks Together are part of the High Hopes Campaign [5], which is pressing CPS to implement restorative justice practices in all its schools.

Some students “may have behavioral issues because of a disability,” but with special education services being cut, there’s less capacity to deal with such issues  and “they may end up getting automatically suspended.”

“They may not even know why they’re being suspended,” she said.  “They’re just out of school.  They think, it’s just because of who I am.  There’s no process, no explanation, no education.”

Success in individual schools

While CPS dropped zero-tolerance policies from its school discipline code and inserted references to restorative justice in 2006, there’s been no concerted effort to implement practices which hold students accountable and give them support to improve their behavior.

Implemented at individual schools at the initiative of staff or community groups, restorative justice has shown impressive results – most dramatically at Fenger High School [6].

But in meetings with High Hopes leaders, CPS continues to propose more pilots.    “They need to think of it as an investment,” said Mercado.  “They’re willing to invest in other areas.”

Earlier this year, High Hopes issued an extensive proposal [7] for implementing restorative justice system-wide.

The UCLA report noted that the success of “positive” discipline approaches in many school districts stands as a rebuke to those like CPS that lag behind.

“It’s critically important to keep students, especially those facing inequities in other parts of their lives, enrolled in school,” writes Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project, in the introduction to the report.  “Students who are barely maintaining a connection with their school often are pushed out, as if suspension were a treatment.”

Writes Orfield:  “Putting students who face serious challenges on a path that leads them to detach from school or cut the already weak ties that prevent them from dropping out is a misguided practice.”

The march from Crane to the Audy Home – which will feature students dressed as “ghosts of graduates that could have been” – kicks off a national week of action, with rallies and teach-ins in 20 cities in support of the call for a national moratorium on out-of-school suspensions [8] by the Dignity In Schools [9] campaign.  (Read the campaign’s declaration [10].)

DSC recently published a Model Code on Education [11], laying out policies, practices, and implementation guidelines to transform school climate and discipline models.  Youth from Blocks Together participating in developing the code.