DOWNTOWN — Parents and students charged Chicago charter schools Tuesday with targeted expulsions intended to raise their test-score averages.
Voices of Youth in Chicago Education held a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Thompson Center to call on the General Assembly to take action on the "appalling discipline policies" at charter schools.
Jamie Adams, a former charter student who is now a freshman at Roosevelt High School, accused charters of "pushing out students who don't test well" and said, "It's very, very common for students to get in trouble for the smallest thing — like chewing gum."
Jessica Schneider, of the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, which handles many expulsion cases pro bono, said she had recently taken the case of a Noble Network of Charter Schools student who had been expelled for posting a "Let's go smoke" message on Facebook. She confirmed that charters tend to display "overly harsh discipline and what appears to be the targeting of students to push out."
VOYCE and the lawyers committee are asking the General Assembly to step in and provide oversight they said is not being provided by the Illinois State Board of Education and and Illinois State Charter School Commission.
"These are publicly funded schools, and they should be publicly accountable," Schneider said.
Dozens of VOYCE members marched outside the Thompson Center, the state's main Chicago office building, following the news conference.
According to VOYCE data compiled from Chicago Board of Education statistics and Freedom of Information Act requests, Chicago Public Schools have a rate of 1.1 expulsions for every 1,000 students.
By contrast, the Noble Network of Charter Schools has an expulsion rate of 8.4 per 1,000, and Perspectives Charter Schools have an expulsion rate of 17.5 per 1,000.
"Protestors say that the Chicago Board of Education and the State Charter School Commission have failed to apply the appropriate scrutiny, transparency and accountability to charter schools, which are paid for with public funds," according to a VOYCE news release.
"They say the overuse of expulsions is a civil-rights issue and amounts to systematically 'choosing' which students will be educated with public dollars. They are calling on the Illinois General Assembly to take action to curb these practices and require all publicly funded schools to serve all students."
"VOYCE is comparing apples to oranges when they claim that Noble has a greater rate of expulsion than CPS," Noble responded in a prepared statement. "VOYCE is using data for the entire district — preschool through 12th grade — when reporting expulsion rates, yet Noble only serves high-school students. High-school students in Chicago and across the country are referred for expulsions at far greater rates than preschoolers. The reality is we wish we did not have to expel a single student, and we work diligently with our social workers and with parents to avoid that outcome."
"I am responsible for my students’ safety,” added Lauryn Fullerton, principal of a Noble campus in the South Side's Auburn Gresham neighborhood. "While it does not happen often, there are times when we must remove a student. These are not minor offenses, but actions that put our students in grave danger. While I wish that every student could remain at Noble, we cannot allow the safety of our schools to be compromised."
Noble also emphasized it does a better job of retaining and graduating students than the district, according to Illinois State Board of Education report cards.
VOYCE has previously charged CPS with weeding out students to improve test averages at Southwest Side high schools including Gage Park.
On Tuesday, VOYCE also drew attention to how charters do not devote the same attention to special-education students as neighborhood public schools do. According to VOYCE figures, Bowen and Corliss high schools, which will be sharing buildings with Noble schools, both have about 25 percent special-ed students, while Noble has half that many.
VOYCE cited Noble Principal Dr. Garland Thomas as saying: "Every Noble campus has outperformed every traditional high school serving the same kids in the same communities."
"Charter schools can't claim to be 'non-selective' and 'higher-performing' public schools while relying on expulsion to systematically choose which students they will educate with taxpayer dollars," VOYCE charged.
VOYCE also drew attention to how Noble received permission from the Chicago Board of Education to add three campuses, while the board was going on to vote to close 50 neighborhood schools.
Earlier this year, parents charged Chicago Bulls College Prep with an excessive disciplinary system resulting in high fines.