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CPS chief aims to cut suspensions, expulsions of young kids

Chicago Public Schools CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett  |  Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: July 25, 2014 6:17AM

First- and second-graders in Chicago Public Schools will be spared from school suspensions if proposed disciplinary changes are approved at this week’s Board of Education meeting. And so will students busted for chatting on cellphones in class.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Monday that she will formally ask the board on Wednesday to revise the Student Code of Conduct to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions throughout the district, moving it away from a “zero tolerance” disciplinary policy and toward less punitive “restorative justice” practices.

Along with exempting the youngest students from suspension unless they have weapons, CPS wants to give principals more discretion on all but the most serious offenses, and removes many offenses — such as theft — from the mandatory call-the-police list. Administrators and teachers will receive more training, though not more money, Byrd-Bennett said.

Tough policies have led locally and nationally to a disproportionate number of African-American students being suspended and expelled from schools. Though black kids make up 41 percent of CPS students, 75 percent of all out-of-school suspensions in 2012-13 were handed out to black students.

“The district had one of the most strict, the strictest zero tolerance policy I’ve ever seen this in country,” she said. “And those policies contributed to a wide disparity in our suspension rates by race. . . . Suspensions must be, must be and should be intended to be the last resort for any of our schools.”

Shawn Brown of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, one of several groups CPS consulted for suggestions, said the district isn’t invested enough in restorative justice.

“I don’t see any significant resources tied to building restorative practices,” Brown said. “This isn’t a workshop you can just do over the summer. This is something you have to tie significant resources to so you can train all staff on how to use a different philosophy on how to build and maintain in a school environment.”

Chicago Teachers Union recording secretary Michael Brunson, who also took part in talks, questioned why the city’s public charters schools aren’t required to adopt the code, though 10 charter operators have opted to, including Catalyst Schools, KIPP Chicago and ASPIRA. Chicago’s largest operators such as Chicago International Charter School, Noble Charter Network and UNO Charter Schools, have not.

Charter school students in Chicago were shown to be 11 times more likely to be expelled than students in traditional schools, according to CPS data. Of the 25 schools with the top expulsion rates last year, 22 of them were charters.


Twitter: @bylaurenfitz

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