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Chicago Public Schools Easing Up on Discipline Policy

Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune

 

As part of ongoing efforts to find alternatives to harsh discipline, CPS plans to stop suspending students for using cellphones in class, prohibit almost all suspensions in prekindergarten through second grade and make out-of-school suspensions for older students a "last resort."

The proposed revisions to the discipline code, which also eliminate mandatory expulsions for students below sixth grade except for weapons infractions, will be voted on by Chicago's Board of Education at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

The new code is intended to be more clear, preventing differences across the district over how disciplinary problems are handled, and to find ways to keep kids in the classroom. "Suspensions must be a last resort for any of our schools," said schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a briefing Monday.

Byrd-Bennett said CPS is the only major school district that issues out-of-school suspensions for cellphone use in the classroom. Under the revised policy, students caught with cellphones will not face suspensions unless they're using the device to harass, incite violence or disrupt other students.

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The policy also abandons the "persistent defiance" offense, which officials said contributed to a higher percentage of African-American students receiving suspensions compared with their white and Latino classmates. School officials said teachers could interpret "persistent defiance" as a student throwing a pen across the table several times in anger, or a student simply shrugging his shoulders.

The proposed discipline code now limits mandatory police notification to possession of firearms or drugs.

Since 2012, the district has been trying to fix a discipline code that was one of the toughest in the nation.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which has been among a number of groups working with the district on the revisions, said the proposed changes are a step in the right direction. But the union called on CPS to add social workers, counselors, conflict resolution and restorative justice practices to each school and ensure each building has fully trained staff to address student needs.

CPS officials said schools will not be getting more money to implement the revised policy, which stresses a more tolerant response to misbehavior and the use of restorative justice techniques like peace circles and anger management classes.

Shawn Brown, campaign director of the student advocacy group VOYCE, said not only principals but entire school staffs need additional training on ways to implement the new discipline initiatives.

CPS has been criticized over disproportionately high expulsions and suspensions at privately run schools like those run by charter networks. District officials said they are encouraging those schools to take a closer look at their policies and that 10 charters, including ASPIRA and KIPP, have signed onto the district's student discipline policy.

nahmed@tribune.com ___

 

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