Eligibility eased for alternative schools

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Responding to complaints from school principals and disciplinarians, the central administration has eased the criteria for sending disruptive students to alternative schools.

Students who have been suspended repeatedly for Group 3 and Group 4 discipline code violations—for example, using obscene language, fighting or serious disobedience—are now eligible for placement in alternative schools. Students must chalk up at least 25 days of suspension for Group 3 violations or 20 days of suspension for Group 4.

Previously, students had to have been suspended for at least 15 days for Group 5 offenses—for example, aggravated assault and arson—to be eligible. However, some schools said those guidelines were overly strict and kept them from ridding schools of their worst troublemakers. “These are the kids we are overwhelmed with, the 3’s and 4’s,” one disciplinarian said. (See Catalyst, March 1996.)

Board officials based the original guidelines on recommendations of a focus group that believed only students who had committed serious offenses should be eligible.

But Ron Beavers, who became the board’s director of alternative programs just as alternative schools were opening, called for a change in the guidelines because he believed they weren’t meeting schools’ needs. With increased security at many high schools, he says, “Kids aren’t committing the serious offenses. Those aren’t what schools need help with.” Indeed, during the Feb. 29 taping of Catalyst’s “City Voices” radio show, Beavers reported that while alternative school slots for dropouts and chronic truants were filling up fast, referrals for disruptive students were only trickling in.

Though the guidelines have been relaxed, schools still must go through a referral process, with regional offices giving the final OK, Beavers notes. That process includes meeting with the student and his parents, and documenting that the school has a fair and equitable discipline program and has tried to correct the students’ behavior.

Students who are expelled will continue to be eligible automatically; so far this year, 20 to 30 students have been expelled. Under a new federal law, students who bring guns to school must be expelled; Chicago created a Group 6 discipline code category this year that provides for expulsion for bringing “firearms or other destructive devices” to school.