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CPS students want more support, fewer cops in schools

Members ofVoices Youth Chicago Educatiexpress their displeasure with current “code conduct” for CPS students CPS headquarters Thursday. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Members ofVoices of Youth in Chicago Education express their displeasure with the current “code of conduct” for CPS students, at CPS headquarters on Thursday. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 16, 2011 1:08AM

A Chicago Public School student arrested and hauled to the police station for writing his nickname on his desk.

Others kids sent home on suspension for packing cell phones or wearing jeans instead of navy uniform pants.

Too often, a group of students contended Thursday, discipline in CPS schools is “harsh,” uneven and counterproductive, with adults jumping to punish students for minor infractions instead of trying to understand or help them.

“Our schools don’t need more security guards and cops. ... They need more resources,” said Gage Park High School senior Pamela Lewis. “CPS is spending our money in the wrong places.”

Lewis and other student members of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, or VOYCE, demanded Thursday that CPS rewrite the Student Code of Conduct — and let them help. They accused the deficit-ridden system of misplaced priorities for spending $51 million a year on school-based security guards but only $3.5 million on school-based college and career coaches.

Among their recommendations:

◆ End suspensions for minor offenses that pose no threat to student safety, such as carrying a cell phone, tardiness or violating dress codes.

◆ Replace some out-of-school suspensions of up to 10 days with in-school suspensions of no more than three days that would include academic or other help.

◆ Require principals to get district approval for any suspension of more than five days, to ensure evenness of discipline across schools.

The students said CPS should pour more money into counselors, social workers and peer juries that support kids, rather than security guards and police that make them feel like criminals.

The new, much higher, $25 million price tag for two police officers per CPS high school would be better spent on “social and emotional supports for kids” said June Roosevelt High graduate Stephanie Mayo. Though she was her school’s valedictorian , Stephanie said the cops at Roosevelt made her feel like a criminal because when she walked past them, they would “ask me questions as if I was doing something wrong.”

The ready presence of cops in schools can lead to arrests for minor infractions that could otherwise be handled solely by school officials, students said. They pointed to research indicating arrested students are 50 percent more likely to drop out of school.

Roosevelt High alum Jose Briceno, who wants to be an art teacher, said his arrest last year for writing his nickname on his desk three years earlier amounted to overkill.

It came after an investigation of school graffiti by someone else led officials to determine that a “tag,” or nickname, left on a desk three years earlier was his handiwork, the 19-year-old said. By then, Jose said, his tagging days were behind him, thanks to an earlier unrelated brush with the law.

“I offered to clean it,” said Jose, who described his tagging as the work of a frustrated artist who would have benefitted at the time from art classes. “They could have said, ‘Let me help you out.’ Instead they said, ‘Let me arrest you.’”

Jose’s account of the episode could not immediately be confirmed with school officials.

New Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard “feels very passionately” about the student discipline issue and “is committed” to reducing suspensions at CPS, just as he did in his previous role as schools superintendent in Rochester, N.Y., wrote CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll in an e-mail.

CPS is currently working on changes to the Student Code of Conduct that “encourage positive student behavior and ensure that interventions and consequences for the least severe violations are instructive and corrective,” Carroll wrote.

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