CHICAGO — After several elementary school students were suspended from a South Side charter school on charges they drank liquor on campus, one parent and a local state representative questioned whether the punishment is appropriate.
Rhonda Carney, 56, said she was surprised when the dean of Chicago International Charter School Longwood told her that her 11-year-old daughter was being suspended for five days for drinking at the school in Washington Heights.
Carney said a sixth-grade boy sneaked vodka into the school in a water bottle and passed the bottle to another girl before it landed in the hands of Carney's daughter.
The 11-year-old girl drank the clear liquid, which she told her mother ""smelled fruity," Carney said. Other kids said it smelled like coconuts, she told her mom.
"She's a follower. I tell her that every day," the mother said.
When a security guard found the water bottle, the boy admitted not only to bringing it to school Thursday, but also the day before. He even named the nine students he said drank out of the bottle Wednesday, and all were given suspensions, Carney said.
"They told the other kids that did it ... they were suspended five days for drinking alcohol on the premises," Carney said. "Nine kids drank it [the day before], and no adult found it ... why should they be suspended?"
"It's not like they ante'd up for a fifth. They're in sixth grade. ... They've got no common sense. What if that little boy gave them all poison and they consumed it? [The teachers] don't know what those kids consumed" Wednesday, Carney said.
The incident, which is still under investigation by officials at the charter school, involved several children in fifth and sixth grades, said Sharon Hughes, a spokeswoman for Chicago International Charter Schools.
The incident is considered a "category 3" violation of the school's code of conduct, meaning students could have been expelled. In addition to the suspension, school officials were contemplating requiring the students to perform community service or take alcohol-awareness classes, Hughes said.
"We want them to really think about the issue," Hughes said. "We can't just slap them on the wrist."
Hughes commended Kenyatta Stansberry, director of the Longwood campus, for levying lesser punishments because of the students' young age.
But state Rep. Monique Davis, who learned about the incident after a parent approached her Thursday, deemed the punishment too harsh and said she feared "Children will return to school with diminished self-esteem."
Davis called it "the perfect example of what happens to little black boys and girls" adding that some students "may never recover."
"Nine sixth-graders for five days? I thought it was about education. What happened to 'No Kid Left Behind?'" Carney said. "What happened to in-school suspension? Kids don't care about being home from school for five days."
Carney said she wasn't going to let her daughter, an honor roll student, use the suspension as a "vacation," so she insisted her daughter's teachers give her lessons to do from home while she's out.
"She's going to do some school work for these five days," she said.