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Chicago Public Schools moves to crack down on bullying

Updated: July 27, 2012 6:26AM

School staff and students who see a child bullying another would be required to report it, and accusations of such behavior would have to be investigated within 10 school days under a proposed Chicago Public School Student Code of Conduct that includes a crackdown on the hot-button problem.

In addition, principals would have to keep working with all parties until “the situation is resolved,’’ including until “the target reports feeling safe and is interacting civilly with the perpetrator,’’ under the proposal up for a School Board vote Wednesday.

Other elements of the new CPS Student Code of Conduct include allowing in-school suspensions to be used as an alternative, or in combination with, out-of-school suspensions, and lowering the automatic minimum penalty for the most serious offenses, including murder and arson, from 10 days out of school to five days in or out of school. However, students accused of the most serious offenses would still be subject to expulsion.

Some complained the new student code did not go far enough in ensuring arrests were only reserved for the most serious and harmful behavior. It still allows students to be charged with trespassing for coming back to school to pick up their homework while under suspension, noted Emma Tai of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education.

On the bullying front, the new code allows students to report bullying anonymously via a new paper form or the CPS violence prevention hotline. It also specifically recommends against using “peace circles” or other forms of victim-offender interaction to resolve bullying.

“The solution is not going to come from putting the victim and the bully in the same room at first,’’ said Jennifer Louden, CPS director of Youth Development and Positive Behavior Supports.

However, Alex Wiesendanger, lead organizer of the Community Renewal Society, said he believes “restorative’’ approaches with bullies and victims can be beneficial. Tackling bullying takes careful training, and Wiesendanger said he is concerned that to fill a $700 million deficit, CPS will cut money for “restorative justice’’ coordinators trained in anti-bullying and anti-violence work.

“Saying we’re going to do all this anti-bullying work without the resources to provide the [restorative justice] positions is dooming it to failure,’’ said Wiesendanger, part of a High HOPES (Healing Over the Punishment of Expulsions and Suspensions) campaign that has fought for a restorative justice coordinator in every school.

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