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CPS Students Charge Prejudice in Discipline, Back New Federal Guidelines

By Ted Cox | January 8, 2014 6:00pm
 CPS student Frank Sandoval said, "All I ever wanted was a safe place to go ... to be myself."
CPS student Frank Sandoval said, "All I ever wanted was a safe place to go ... to be myself."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — Student groups staged a protest at Chicago Public Schools headquarters Wednesday to charge racial and sexual prejudice in school discipline and to back new, more liberal federal guidelines on the issue.

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education was joined by the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance in backing the new, more considered federal stance on school discipline and to encourage Chicago students to tell their own stories on suspensions and expulsions.

Dunbar Vocational Career Academy student Marshawn Earvin said he received a three-day suspension as a sophomore after being "falsely accused" of joining in making an inappropriate statement with another student and had strived to overcome the incident since. He said statewide figures show blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately punished for school offenses.

 Marshawn Earvin (l.) said he was suspended after being falsely accused of making inappropriate comments.
Marshawn Earvin (l.) said he was suspended after being falsely accused of making inappropriate comments.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Frank Sandoval, now a student at Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy, said that while a student at Muchin College Prep, a Downtown charter school in the Noble Network, he received his first detention (and was charged $5) for rallying students in favor of a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual support group.

"All I ever wanted was a safe place to go ... to be myself," Sandoval said, but after the school principal repeatedly rejected requests to authorize the support group students were dealt detentions "just for speaking our minds."

The student groups demanded that CPS involve students in decisions on "restrictive justice," limit exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions, detentions and expulsions, and address bias in those areas, and collect and share data on student discipline.

According to Shawn Brown, of VOYCE, CPS has repeatedly deferred promises to share disciplinary data.

"The district has moved away from a disciplinary system of zero tolerance to one that is focused on instructive and corrective responses to misbehavior," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. "With the district’s goal for every student to graduate 100 percent college-ready and college-bound, CPS will take into consideration the recommendations made today in order to provide our students with both a high-quality education and social-emotional learning support."

Federal guidelines released Wednesday by the Education and Justice departments drew attention to "a real problem" with administering school discipline and urged that "schools involve families, students and school personnel in the development of discipline policies," according to the student groups, and that other devices such as "social and emotional skill building" be adopted before disciplinary action.

According to the students, the guidelines suggest: "If discipline disparities are found, schools should commit to a plan of action to improve student outcomes."

The students added that the Department of Justice found that school systems where a black student is three times more likely than a white student to be suspended are suspect, while in Chicago a black student is 11 times more likely to be suspended than a white student. They charged that not only black and Hispanic students were prone to harsh discipline, but also students identifying as gay or otherwise unconventional in sexual orientation.

The Associated Press reported: "The Obama administration is urging schools to abandon overly zealous discipline policies that civil-rights advocates have long said lead to a school-to-prison pipeline that discriminates against minority students.

"The wide-ranging series of guidelines issued Wednesday in essence tells schools that they must adhere to the principle of fairness and equity in student discipline or face strong action if they don’t." the report continued, adding, "The American Civil Liberties Union called the recommendations 'ground-breaking.'"

VOYCE has previously charged charter schools with unnecessarily harsh discipline, and accused CPS of using strategic demotions to influence test scores.