CPS students demand new discipline policies, meeting with school board

July 14, 2011

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(WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)
More than 75 students from all over Chicago rallied in the foyer of CPS headquarters.
(WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)
Students, parents, teachers and civil rights workers presented the study's findings and urged an end to zero tolerance.

Scores of students rallied Thursday morning to end the "zero tolerance" discipline policy at Chicago Public Schools. And they're releasing an original cost-analysis study to back their case.

The gist of the zero tolerance policy is that CPS students can get suspended or expelled if they "seriously disrupt the orderly educational process." What exactly "seriously disrupting" means is up to teachers' and schools' discretion, but in theory the policy is designed to keep schools safe from violence and drugs.

The students are demanding a meeting with the heads of CPS to re-write the policy. They say it doesn't work, and it's often abused to dump under-achieving students. Recent high school graduate Carlil Pittman says he was expelled two years ago for cutting class.

"I was stuck in the house for a month and because no school would allow me in their school because I had been expelled. And school policy is supposed to be in our best interest but I don't think keeping me in the house for a month was in my best interest at all," Pittman said.

He said he tried enrolling in 10 other high schools, none of which would take him due to his expulsion. He begrudgingly ended up going to his neighborhood Gage Park High School eventhough he had wanted to go to a "better school."

A new study by local students in VOYCE, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, and the civil rights organization The Advancement Project shows the tough love approach doesn't work. The study suggests harsh discipline leads to more dropouts and hundreds of millions in wasted tax dollars.

VOYCE says CPS's priorities are backward, and illustrated that within their study, entitled "Failed Policies, Broken Futures: The True Cost of Zero Tolerance in Chicago." One chart shows that in 2011 CPS employed 1,086 people in their office of safety and security, while their office of teaching and learning had eight.

In addition to their meeting with the heads of CPS, the students of VOYCE are demanding more transparency on how disciplinary actions are used in the schools as well as re-allocation of the 2012 CPS budget into less security and more prevention-based strategies.

A CPS spokesperson said the district hasn't seen the study, but it's aware of issues regarding zero tolerance policy.