school discipline – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Students promote Martin Luther King’s values Wed, 15 Jan 2014 20:08:09 +0000 Who in Chicago schools is carrying out Martin Luther King’s teachings about the importance of finding peaceful methods to resolve conflicts?

For that matter, who’s responding to the recent guidelines from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education on civil rights and school discipline, urging a reduction of zero-tolerance policies that target minority youth?

One group is doing both: the students carrying out restorative justice programs in Chicago schools, with little support from the central administration.

Uplift Community High School student volunteers in the school’s Peace Ambassadors program will be honored for carrying on Dr. King’s legacy in a recognition ceremony on Friday, January 17, at 9:30 a.m. The school is located at 900 W. Wilson.

Uplift’s Peace Ambassadors use peer conferencing to resolve disputes that have resulted in minor misbehavior.  Students reflect on the impact of their actions and create an agreement for repairing the harm and addressing underlying issues to prevent its recurrence.

Students have gained crucial interpersonal skills while detentions and suspensions have been reduced and the school climate improved, said Ana Mercado of Alternatives, Inc., which trains students for the program.

Recent studies have confirmed that CPS leads the nation in suspension rates, particularly for black students with disabilities.

Advocates have long called on CPS to institute restorative justice on a district-wide basis, including charter schools, some of which continue to feature punitive disciplinary policies.

More police in schools? Mon, 21 Jan 2013 01:57:03 +0000 New federal funds for safe schools should go for more counselors, social workers and psychologists, and not more police in schools, several groups are arguing.

Students and parents from across the city will hold a press conference Monday, January 21, 2 p.m. at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark to make their case.

Participating are Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, POWER-PAC, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

President Obama has proposed spending $150 million on police “school resource officers,” counselors and psychologists.

“We have ten full-time school security guards and two full-time armed school police, but we don’t even have one school psychologist,” said VOYCE student leader Ahkeem Wright in a release.

A CTU study last year found CPS was staffed far below recommended levels for school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists.

CPS’s approach “has led to record-public spending, stark racial disparities and the overuse of school-based arrests for misdemeanor offenses – even as homicide and gun violence in the surrounding communities skyrocket,” the groups maintain.

Chicago has had among the highest in-school arrest rates in the nation, and last year there were an average of 25 students arrested in school every day here, compared to 5 in New York City, with twice as many students, according to VOYCE.

“Students are being arrested for misbehavior that 20 years ago would have meant a trip to the principal’s office,” said VOYCE coordinator Emma Tai.  “It’s not punishment, it’s not consequences — it’s criminalization.”

In 2011, CPS voluntarily increased its payments for police officers stationed in schools from $8 million a year to $25 million.  A new contract is set to be renewed at this month’s school board meeting.

“We need more ways to support our students, not more cops to arrest them for little things,” said POWER-PAC co-chair Felipa Mena, a restorative justice peacemaker at Wells High School whose son – as Wells graduate – was killed in a street shooting in 2009.


For more:  How Obama might make school-to-prison pipeline worse (American Prospect)

School-to-jail march targets CPS suspension rates Fri, 28 Sep 2012 23:07:26 +0000 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 and Access Living‘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 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, 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.

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 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 by the Dignity In Schools campaign.  (Read the campaign’s declaration.)

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

A peace rally, a fight… Fri, 04 May 2012 19:48:45 +0000 What if CPS gave a Peace Rally – and a fight broke out?

In a bit of street theater, students who are organizing for school discipline reform will stage the kind of scuffle that often takes place in Chicago schools – a small misunderstanding, a few insults, and someone throws the first punch.

But they’re promising “something unexpected” at that point.  Perhaps it’s a lesson for adults on how to de-escalate conflicts and solve underlying problems?

It’s scheduled for 12:20 p.m. on Saturday, May 5 outside the office of Community Organizing and Family Issues at 1436 W. Randolph – and across the street from Union Park, where a giant peace rally is planned by CPS and community groups later in the afternoon.

After the “fight” ends, Blocks Together will hold a hearing at the COFI office, where students will testify about the need for CPS to implement long-promised restorative justice programs to improve discipline and reduce suspensions and expulsions.

The City Council’s education committee recently held a hearing on school discipline issues – but scheduled it at 10 a.m. on a school day, so no students could participate, said Ana Mercado of Blocks Together.  Aldermen and school board members have been invited to Saturday’s hearing, she said.  (The education committee voted to recommend CPS implement restorative justice.)

“Students at my school get kicked out for the simplest reasons” under zero tolerance policies that CPS supposedly ended several years ago, said Andrew, a CPS student and member of Blocks Together 2.0, in a  release.

“With restorative justice, students will be in school instead of getting kicked out,” said Misael, another BT 2.0 member.  “Restorative jusice actually helps students solve their problems.”

Blocks Together and COFI are members of the High Hopes Campaign, which calls for using restorative justice to reduce suspensions and expulsions that disproportionately impact minority students.  Both groups have worked in individual Chicago schools to implement alternative discipline programs.

On Monday, May 7 at 6 p.m., hundreds of students, parents, and teachers are expected at a Town Hall meeting held by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education to call for an end to “the extreme and unjust disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact the education of black and Latino students in Chicago.”  It takes place at IBEW Local 124, 600 W. Washington.

VOYCE has called for limits on school referrals to law enforcement, increased transparency on disciplinary actions, shifting security funding to restorative justice programs, and reducing “push-out” practices at charters.

A community platform to stop violence Sun, 29 Apr 2012 20:02:07 +0000 Violence is up in Chicago, but community leaders say prevention works and deserves support.

Hundreds of residents of Rogers Park and Uptown will attend the unveiling of a comprehensive violence prevention platform by the Organization of the North East on Monday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Sullivan High School, 6631 N. Bosworth.

“We cannot end violence and crime with policing and law enforcement,” according to the platform. “We must address the root causes of violence by employing multiple strategies that build community, support positive youth development, prevent the negative influence of poverty and racism, and provide development-focused interventions when youth make choices that will have a negative impact on their lives.”

Speakers will include young people who have been helped by community programs and CeaseFire interrupters and clients.  “There’s a lot of good work being done that needs to be continued,” said ONE executive director Joe Damal.

Students who have been inappropriately suspended will discuss the need for school discipline reform.  ONE is part of the High Hopes Campaign, which calls for implementing restorative justice practices to reduce suspensions and expulsions in CPS.

Fenger High School – a model for CPS Sun, 25 Mar 2012 19:08:44 +0000 Mark Brown offers an inspiring report on the success of restorative justice in “creating an atmosphere that is both disciplined and relaxed” at Fenger High School, overcoming the unfortunate notoriety the school received with the killing of Derrion Albert in 2009.

Newstips noted Spicer’s work at Fenger over a year ago, in a post reviewing restorative justice efforts in individual CPS schools – and the lack of district support for the initiatives.  (Spicer’s commitment to restorative justice goes back years with his work heading the Community Justice for Youth Institute.)

That’s the bigger picture:  coalitions like VOYCE and the High Hopes Campaign – building on the work of community groups like Blocks Together and POWER-PAC, and the in-school efforts of social service agencies like Alternatives Inc. and the Chicago Area Project — are pressing CPS to put real resources behind the restorative justice approach it officially embraced, at least on paper, in 2006.

VOYCE points out that CPS spends millions of dollars on zero-tolerance discipline approaches that aren’t effective at improving student behavior or making schools safer – and that only make dropout rates worse.  Both High Hopes and VOYCE emphasize the blatant racial disparities in the use of harsh discipline – an issue recently backed up by Arne Duncan.

Mayor Emanuel says improving high schools is going to be a priority.  It needs to be; in two decades of school reform, high schools have been the most resistant to change.

The very first step should be a serious commitment to implementing restorative justice – an approach that holds students accountable for their behavior and supports them to do better, that solves problems rather than kicking them out the door; the approach that’s had such success at Fenger – in every school across the district.

Look at the guide to implementing restorative justice in schools from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

And take advantage of the detailed work of committed Chicagoans on this issue: last year’s report from the VOYCE on the true cost of zero-tolerance policies in CPS; and the important new report from High Hopes, spelling out the steps involved in implementing restorative justice in CPS, including best practices, an analysis of existing barriers in CPS, and how to pay for it.

In fact, High Hopes estimates that CPS could save money — more than $20 million a year — by shifting funding priorities from zero tolerance strategies to restorative justice.

Two years ago Fenger showed us that the status quo is intolerable – and today Fenger is showing us that the problems are not intractable.  It’s a redemption story fitting for springtime.  But it has important lessons for all of us, and it’s up to us to put them into action.

Students are petitioning the mayor, and City Council members and other elected officials are callling for implementing restorative justice.  Let’s heed these voices.

CPS pressed on discipline reform Tue, 13 Mar 2012 22:46:24 +0000 A City Council resolution will call on CPS to implement school discipline reforms, and students, parents, and community and faith leaders will release a report showing that a restorative justice approach could make schools safer and save the school district money.

The High Hopes Campaign will hold a press conference in the main entrance hall of City Hall at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14.  Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) will discuss a resolution he will introduce Wednesday’s council meeting, and students and parents who are implementing restorative justice in Chicago schools will describe their experiences.

CPS added restorative justice to its student code of conduct in 2006 but has never implemented the approach system-wide. The approach uses peer juries and peace circles to improve school safety and culture by holding students accountable for their actions and supporting them to get on track.

The report presents findings that restorative justice is more effective at improving student behavior and achievement than punitive discipline methods, including suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.  It reviews best practices and makes recommendation on what’s needed in terms of funding and staffing, as well as monitoring and evaluation. [Read the report.]

CPS could save money now spent on having police officers and large numbers of security guards in schools – and on expulsions and arrests — by focusing on approaches that improve behavior, said Ana Mercado of Blocks Together.

The High Hopes Campaign (it stands for Healing Over the Punishment of Expulsions and Suspensions) includes Access Living, Community Renewal Society, Enlace Chicago, Organization of the North East, Blocks Together, Trinity UCC, Southwest Youth Collaborative, and POWER-PAC.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education released findings confirming that African-American students in CPS face harsher discipline than other students.  It’s time “to figure out what’s working and what’s not,” said Secretary Arne Duncan at the time.

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Students call on Emanuel to back discipline reform Sun, 04 Mar 2012 19:50:32 +0000 Student activists and elected officials will launch a petition drive Monday calling on Mayor Emanuel to reverse his support for extreme disciplinary policies that they say are ineffective and force kids out of school and onto the streets.

Students from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education will be joined by County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, State Senator Willie Delgado, and State Representative Kim Dubuclet for a press conference at the Cook County Junevile Center, 2245 W. Ogden, at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 5.

Students will share research and personal experiences showing that punitive disciplinary approaches – ranging from fines for misconduct at Noble Charter Schools to suspensions and expulsions at traditional schools – target black and Latino students disproportionately and increase their risk of failure.

New research by students in VOYCE, reviewing tens of thousands of disiplinary actions at CPS over the past year, shows the vast majority were for offenses that did not pose serioius and immediate safety threats, according to the group.

While Emanuel pushes for a longer school day, CPS policies cause hundreds of thousands of lost school days for kids most at risk, they point out.

VOYCE is a citywide multiracial youth organization focused on reducing dropouts. After a 2008 report on “Student-Led Solutions to the Dropout Crisis,” the goup piloted a program in which 300 members served as peer mentors to 700 freshmen in eight high schools. They found extended suspensions for minor misbehavior to be a major obstacle to getting kids on track (see Newstips from July 2011).

More recently the group highlighted the use of fines for misbehavior at Noble Charter Schools, which they say has pushed low-income students out. Emanuel defended Noble in the controversy.

“As the Noble Charter example shows us, without transparency schools can get away with discipline policies that force out students who need the most support,” said Victor Alquicira, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School. “All schools that get taxpayer dollars should be held accountable to educating all of us.”

Under pressure from community groups and youth advocates, CPS added language to its discipline code backing restorative justice — which “combines strict control and strong support,” according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Agency — but has failed to implement the change, critics say (see last month’s post).

Research has shown that restorative justice is effective where harsh discipline fails to make schools safer or improve students’ behavior and achievement. Studies have also consistently found that students of color receive harsher discipline than white students for similar misconduct.

Following the press conference, students will go door-to-door collecting signatures on the petition.

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