Students, CPS spar over school arrests

April 24, 2012

A student member of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) holds part of a sign representing the 25 young people arrested on CPS property every day.
A student member of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) holds part of a sign representing the 25 young people arrested on CPS property every day.

The student group Voices of Youth in Chicago Education held a City Hall press conference Tuesday to urge CPS to stop having students arrested for misdemeanor offenses, citing its analysis of school arrest data and claiming that the city arrests 25 students, on average, every day.

But CPS and the Chicago Police Department say the group’s analysis is inaccurate because it is based on data for all juvenile arrests on any CPS-owned property, including arrests that take place during non-school hours.

VOYCE says police made 2,546 school-based arrests between September 2011 and February 2012, according to data supplied by the civil rights organization Advancement Project. The VOYCE analysis pointed out that the arrestees included three 9-year-olds, eight 10-year-olds, and 17 children who were age 11. Of those arrested, 75 percent (1,915) were African-American, 21 percent (540) were Latino and 3 percent (75) were white.

Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Melissa Stratton notes that the data includes all juveniles, including non-students and dropouts, who are arrested on CPS property—including non-school property—at all times of the day and night, including weekends.

More accurate school-based arrest data is difficult to find, however. Stratton said CPS could provide “more accurate information about the incidents that actually took place in the schools during the school day.”

CPS officials, however, said they don’t have data on how many times school incidents result in students being arrested. "When an arrest is made, it is noted as part of the incident, but for actual arrest numbers, we will have to refer you to CPD," district spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus wrote. 

The most common misdemeanor charge was battery causing bodily harm, which 366 people were charged with. Another 358 were charged with “physical contact” battery and 313 with “reckless conduct,” criticized by VOYCE members as a catch-all charge for rowdy students.

The students involved in VOYCE delivered 5,000 petition signatures to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and asked him to attend a May 7 town hall meeting on issues of school discipline and safety.

They complained that in meetings to rewrite the discipline code, CPS officials have not worked with them. Among their demands:

*Limit the maximum suspension time to 5 days, and eliminate suspensions as an option for lower-level infractions

*Eliminate police involvement for misdemeanor-level offenses

*Increase funding for restorative justice programs

*Create a public database of school-based arrests and other disciplinary actions.

Sainvilus says the district does not have the authority to create such a database, because arrests are “the exclusive jurisdiction of CPD.”

CPS officials wrote in a statement that “CEO Brizard is a strong advocate of limiting suspensions and other actions that remove students from the classroom” and noted that new social-emotional supports in schools have led to 28 percent fewer expulsion referrals, 43 percent fewer expulsions and 27 percent fewer arrests on school grounds between 7am and 5pm Monday through Friday.

Officials also say that some VOYCE suggestions have been incorporated into the new student code of conduct. The district has clarified the police notification section of the code, so that principals know they’re not required to call police on students.

“We have told VOYCE that we do not intend to stop all police notification for misdemeanor offenses as VOYCE suggests, because in situations where criminal offenses are committed in schools, police intervention may be appropriate,” the district noted in an email.

At the press conference, VOYCE students held up signs with faces of 25 students, representing “the futures that could have been,” said Kelly High School student Imani Dorsey.

Roosevelt High School student Angelique Wade said that when she was an 8th-grade student at ASPIRA Haugan Middle School, she was arrested and received a 10-day suspension for starting a fight – the first time she had gotten in trouble, she said.

“I want to go to college, and so I’m concerned about it,” Wade said.

Arrests by age and race

Number of juvenile arrests by statute