Chicago Public Schools Pressures Charters To Drop Zero Tolerance

Officials at Chicago Public Schools are attempting to eliminate the district's zero tolerance policy and are working to expand initiatives in an effort to reduce the number of suspensions at privately-run charter schools. District chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett says that charter schools are part of the district and that all districts need to work together to "ensure the success of our children".

In 2012, a revised student code of conduct was put into place that eliminated out of school suspensions for everything but major discipline issues and also eliminated mandatory 10-day suspensions. Officials in the district say this has led to a near 11% drop in the number of suspensions for high school students.

Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah from the Chicago Tribune reports that there is also more importance put on ideas like peace circles. The district is working with non-profits to help students develop better social and emotional skills, the staff is being trained on how to deal with misbehavior and a task force has been put together to implement these practices throughout the district.

Public schools in Chicago enforced a zero tolerance policy for years and are slowly moving away from it. President Barack Obama's administration released national guidelines criticizing zero tolerance policies and encouraging districts to make changes.

The guidelines call for reducing out-of-school suspensions and address the disproportionate suspension rates of minority students and those with disabilities.

Officials at CPS are looking at the new guidelines and are working once again revising the discipline code.

Byrd-Bennett says she wants more accountability from charter schools and that her team will look at the charter approval and renewal process with plans to give preferences to charters agreeing to align with the district's limits on suspensions. She says that some charters have expressed an interest in aligning so the district schools do not have two different sets of codes of conduct.

"Chicago Public Schools has one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates and the disproportionate use of suspensions," Byrd-Bennett said. "We are going to reverse that trend."

Charter schools in the city have been criticized for pushing out troubled students with unforgiving policies and fines. Leaders of the schools say that tougher discipline leads to safer schools.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools released a statement saying they take the issue of appropriate discipline "very seriously" and are looking forward to collaborating with CPS on the issue.

"Chicago charter public schools have a history of adopting proven and innovative approaches to creating a school culture that works to avoid the most punitive responses to behavior issues," the statement said.

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