Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This came from VOYCE: Voices of Youth in Chicago Education

Jose Sanchez

Groundbreaking Bill to Address "School-to-Prison Pipeline" Passes Illinois Legislature

Legislative effort led by high school students takes aim at harsh and unjust school discipline practices

CHICAGO (May 20, 2015) – A bill passed today in the Illinois House of Representatives will require sweeping changes in the use of harsh school discipline practices across the state. Senate Bill 100, which was approved last month in the Senate with bipartisan support, represents the most comprehensive effort by a state to address the “school-to-prison pipeline.” 
SB 100 prioritizes the creation of safe and orderly schools while seeking to address excessive use of the most severe forms of discipline. Under the legislation students can only be suspended, expelled or referred to an alternative school if all other "appropriate and available" alternatives are exhausted. In other words, suspensions and expulsions become the last resort, rather than the first response. 
Additionally, the bill provides struggling students with academic and behavioral supports, and promotes fairness by holding public schools and charter schools to the same standards for school discipline. The final House vote was 73 yeses – 41 nos, with broad support from both Republicans and Democrats. SB 100 is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
"In schools all across our state, African-American students are disciplined more harshly than white students. As legislators, we saw that this was a serious problem--and that it required our immediate attention. We want to work engaging educators, administrators, parents, students and experts to help us build support for SB 100. Through that process and hard work, we have passed SB 100, a common sense solution to ending this disparity and making our schools safer and stronger. Thanks to SB 100, Illinois is a national leader with a model piece of legislation,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) chief sponsor of SB 100.
Extensive research shows that overly harsh discipline approaches are particularly harmful to students of color and do not promote school safety or academic achievement. Last year, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidelines on school discipline practices and warned against the discriminatory use of “zero-tolerance” policies on students of color and those with disabilities. The guidelines call on school districts to focus on creating positive school climates and to use suspensions and expulsions only as a last resort.
Illinois has one of the widest disparities between suspended black and white students in the country, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In the 2012-13 school year, Chicago Public Schools issued 32 out-of-school suspensions for every 100 black students, compared to just five for every 100 white students. Overall, Illinois students lose over one million instructional days per year as a result of suspensions, expulsions and arrests. 
The effort to pass SB 100 was led by VOYCE (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education), a youth-led coalition comprised of various community groups throughout Chicago, and supported by allies from the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline. VOYCE drafted the bill in 2012 to address the impact that out-of-school suspensions and expulsions were having on their peers and their schools. 
For more than two years, dozens of students traveled repeatedly to Springfield to educate legislators on how disciplinary practices have led to students being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. They also demonstrated that there were practical, common-sense solutions to what has become a statewide problem. 
“For too long, harsh school discipline practices have contributed to the under-education and over-criminalization of young people, and especially youth of color,” said Dalia Mena, an 18-year-old member of VOYCE. “Illinois legislators have demonstrated that by listening to students, we can create schools where all students are valued and supported in their learning.”
More appropriate and effective disciplinary alternatives such as those promoted in SB 100 have already been applied in school systems around the country, resulting in better school safety, improved school attendance, increased academic achievement, and lower costs to taxpayers.
For more information on SB 100, or to request an interview with a representative from VOYCE, please contact Jose Sanchez at 773-827-6324.

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education is a youth organizing collaborative for education and racial justice led by students of color from community organizations across the city of Chicago. VOYCE’s work is driven by the belief that young people who are most directly affected by educational inequity are in the best position to develop meaningful, long-lasting solutions. VOYCE’s organizing focuses on three priority areas:
  • Ending the use of harsh discipline policies that push students out of school and into prisons;
  • Implementing the use of restorative practices in schools; and
  • Limiting the use of high-stakes testing and creating high-quality learning environments

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