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CPS Discipline Racially Biased, Says Student Group

By Ted Cox | March 24, 2014 6:42pm
 Roosevelt High School junior Mariama Bangura said, "The police officers who arrested me thought it was ridiculous."
Roosevelt High School junior Mariama Bangura said, "The police officers who arrested me thought it was ridiculous."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — A student group joined religious and community leaders Monday in pushing for a "Campaign for Common Sense Discipline" in Chicago Public Schools.

The groups held an evening protest at the First United Methodist Church, 77 W. Washington St., and presented data showing that African-American students were 30 times more likely to be expelled than white students in CPS last school year.

"We are students, not criminals, and our communities will not stand for this anymore," said Lorena Corvero, of the Logan Square Neighborhood Organization and Voices for Youth in Chicago Education.

Pastor Ron Taylor, of the Disciples for Christ Evangelistic Ministries, called for CPS to "break the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline."

"This system of criminalizing our young people is unacceptable," added Rabbi Joshua Salter, of the International Israelite Board of Rabbis.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued new guidelines for school discipline aimed at ending the stigma that puts disadvantaged youth on a criminal course.

According to Voices for Youth in Chicago Education, African-American and white students were equally likely to face in-school suspensions for misconduct, but African Americans were 6.5 times more likely to face an out-of-school suspension. That was especially tilted against African-American girls, who according to VOYCE were nine times more likely to be suspended out of school than white girls.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett insisted last month the district lowered suspensions this year following a change in the student code last year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Byrd-Bennett in touting the gains made this year.

But VOYCE has continued to cite statistics charging a racial bias in school discipline, especially at charter schools.

CPS does not keep statistics on arrests, but VOYCE compiled Chicago Police Department data showing there were 4,000 arrests associated with CPS students during the 2011-2012 school year, and 96 percent of those arrested were either African American or Hispanic. According to VOYCE, African-American students were five times more likely to be arrested than whites.

The students and religious leaders called for CPS, and all educators, to reassess how discipline was being assessed.

"CPS has been working toward a more equitable approach to student discipline since 2012, when it amended its Student Code of Conduct to put a greater focus on restorative and instructive practices that keep students connected to their school communities," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. "The district has made significant progress in reducing out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, but there is much more work to do. The Suspensions and Expulsions Reduction Plan the district launched in February aims to further reduce suspensions and expulsions, particularly for African-American students, by making further revisions to the student code, holding schools accountable for implementing harsh, punitive discipline polices and by encouraging more schools to adopt alternatives to suspensions."