Board updates student rules, responds to fired teachers

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Revisions to the CPS Student Code of Conduct passed at Wednesday’s board
meeting did not satisfy advocates for reforming school discipline
procedures, though some said they were a step in the right direction. Revisions to the CPS Student Code of Conduct passed at Wednesday’s board meeting did not satisfy advocates for reforming school discipline procedures, though some said they were a step in the right direction.

Students demanding that the district change the student code were among the 50-some people who spoke during public participation, which ran about two and a half hours. Many of the others were teachers upset at the board’s decision not to fund their raises and at a Do Not Hire list for non-renewed probationary teachers. There also was an update on the budget, which won’t be released until next week.

The changes to the Student Code of Conduct were meant to comply with a state requirement that district’s implement Response to Intervention, a system that requires struggling students be provided academic and behavioral support and that the interventions are documented. Response to Intervention emphasizes providing students with positive behavior expectations and consequences.

But students took issue with the fact that the code still requires that some students, those who commit the most serious offenses, be suspended or expelled. They say the requirement is, essentially, zero tolerance.

However, the code of conduct now notes that administrators can use restorative justice processes, such as peace circles, to help reintegrate students back into a school after a period of suspension or expulsion.

Jasmine Sarmiento, a Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) leader from Logan Square Neighborhood Association who will be a junior at Kelvyn Park High School in the fall, says the policy was short on details.

“I like that there are changes being made, but I also think that it’s not really showing us how these changes will improve CPS,” she said. “I don’t really understand how these changes will work in our schools.”

A number of people showed up at Wednesday’s meeting to thank the board for the revisions and ask for more movement.

Alan Zavala, a VOYCE member and Roosevelt High School student, said that the group would like to see more changes including limits on harsh punishments like suspension and expulsion for repeated low-level misbehavior, like cell phone use.

He also asked the district to set aside more money for restorative justice programming and mental health counseling for students.

Rosazlia Grillier, a member of the POWER-PAC parent leadership council and a Lindblom and Johnson College Prep parent, said she was grateful for the revisions in the code but said she would like to see more concrete steps laid out for restorative justice implementation.

“There’s some more work they need to do,” she said. “It’s a step.”

School funding and teacher hiring issues also took center stage at the meeting.

Although a notice in Wednesday’s board packet said the preliminary budget had been prepared, it will not be available until August 5. However, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard noted that early childhood education, small class sizes, and improving student outcomes would be the district’s top priorities.

CPS also plans to increase the number of Academy for Urban School Leadership teacher trainees; add 2,300 seats to the district’s magnet school programs; and increase the number of  full-day kindergarten spots by 55 percent.

During the meeting’s public participation section, a number of teachers complained about the district’s Do Not Hire policy, which affects all probationary teachers who receive a poor evaluation or are non-renewed twice by their principals. 

They included Raquel Garcia, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at Chase Elementary who was non-renewed by her principal two years in a row because of budget cuts. After the first time, she was re-hired by the same principal who had let her go. The second time, she says, the principal tried to hire her again only to be blocked by central office.

“How can principals be empowered when the teachers they want in the classroom cannot be hired?” Garcia said. “I’m being punished for something I did not do.”

In response to another teacher’s concerns, board member Mahalia Hines indicated that change may be coming on the policy. (Last week, the district reversed its stance on another hiring issue, the use of the TeacherFit test to screen out applicants who were thought to be a poor fit for urban teaching.)

“I agree with many of the things you are saying,” Hines said. “I want you to give this board and this administration a chance. We are hearing you, we are listening, and we will be moving on many of the issues you are referring to.”

Outside the meeting, about 50 teachers picketed to ask for increased school funding. Chicago Teachers Union members plan to attend Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hearing on tax-increment financing reform on Thursday and demand that money from the program be returned to the schools.

The district’s roughly $712 million budget shortfall has prompted CPS to deny teachers and other district employees their contractually agreed 4 percent raises next year, and the first negotiating meeting between the district and the union is August 1, union spokeswoman Liz Brown said.