A group of student activists and their advocates marched from Crane High School to a nearby Cook County Juvenile Detention Center to protest student suspensions and pushouts on Saturday.
The activists are targeting schools that indefinitely suspend, or pushout, chronically truant or low-performing students, sometimes in a effort to raise overall school performance.
The rally included about 50 students, parents, teachers and concerned community members who said the pushouts lead some students down a “school-to-jail” path.
“Students of color and with disabilities have been affected by an unfair and unreasonable discipline system,” said Tiffany Patterson, a student activist who read from a prepared statement in front of the school.
“Public schools need to use a restorative justice program to empower youth to stay in school and further their growth in education.”
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The group cited statistics from a recent report published by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project that shows a disproportionate amount of black students, especially those with learning and physical disabilities, are being pushed out of their schools.
According to the research, Illinois has the largest racial divide in suspension rates between black and white students at about 21 percent.
Using those numbers, the group called for an end to school suspensions and instead want a restorative justice discipline program which involves bringing parents, teachers, principals and other authority figures together to figure out the best disciplinary actions for students.
They say the restorative justice program will help keep disruptive or low-performing high school students from ending up in a juvenile detention center.
Emony Tate, a freshman at Steinmetz College Prep, spoke with Progress Illinois after the rally. She said one of her close friends, who had aspirations to go to culinary school, was pushed out from her school for chronic bad behavior and ended up at the Audy Home Juvenile Detention Center.
“He lost his hope, his passion. He used to walk around telling everybody ‘I’m a cook. I’m a good cook.’ Now, he’s just like ‘I’m going to the army.’ He’s lost his joy,” Tate said.
Saturday’s rally was the first in week-long series of similar planned actions across the country as part of the 3rd Annual National Week of Action on School Pushout hosted by Dignity In Schools Campaign, a student-rights organization.
School pushouts have been a controversial issue in Chicago for decades. Catalyst, an education news journal, has been covering the problem since the late '90s. The problem also extends nationally, as the Seattle Times editorial columnist Lynne K. Varner recently wrote a piece calling for a end to school suspensions.
Varner said in her town minority students faced disciplinary action at a rate of three to four times higher than white students.