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CPS says it will consider new federal school discipline guidelines

U.S. EducatiSecretary Arne Duncan speaks during roundtable discussiwith local students parents educators BeniJuarez Community Academy Chicago Dec. 16 2013.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks during a roundtable discussion with local students, parents and educators at the Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago on Dec. 16, 2013. | Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

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Updated: February 10, 2014 11:58AM

The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students, an issue Chicago Public Schools has been trying to address.

In Chicago, although black students in 2009 made up 45 percent of CPS’ enrollment, 76 percent of all CPS students who received out-of-school suspensions were black, according to Department of Education data. When it came to expulsions, black students made up 80 percent of those who were expelled.

“Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem today, and not just an issue from 40 to 50 years ago,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in Baltimore during the announcement of the federal guidelines on discipline.

Duncan, accompanied by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, said schools “resort too quickly to exclusionary discipline, even for minor misbehaviors.”

Well-intentioned “zero-tolerance” policies “can have significant and lasting negative effects on the long-term well-being of our young people — increasing their likelihood of future contact with juvenile and criminal justice systems,” Holder said.

CPS officials said they’ve been working on the issue.

“The district has moved away from a disciplinary system of zero tolerance to one that is focused on instructive and corrective responses to misbehavior,” a spokesman wrote in a emailed statement.

In 2012, CPS changed its student code of conduct to limit disciplinary actions that took kids out of the classroom. It also has been focusing on training for schools to “promote positive learning environments.”

Despite those changes, members of the group Voices Of Youth in Chicago Education, or VOYCE, urged CPS officials to adopt the federal guidelines, which include encouraging schools to create positive school climates and relying on suspension and expulsion as a last resort for serious infractions. The guidelines also highlight the need for school officials to understand students’ civil rights.

“We might get into trouble — but that may be due to stuff other than just misbehavior,” said Brandon Hernandez, a senior at Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy. “In my experience I’ve seen a lot of gay youth that get bullied, and when you blow up, you don’t need to be pushed out, you need maybe counseling . . . you may not be a troublemaker.”

CPS said it will take the guidelines issued Wednesday into consideration.

The Chicago Teachers Union applauded the federal push.

In a statement, it said: “For years the CTU has supported alternative methods to deal with discipline issues in our schools. Far too many black and Latino students are suspended, expelled and forced to drop out of school, creating a school-to-prison pipeline.”

Contributing: Mitch Dudek


Twitter: @schlikerman

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