Expulsions too high at charters: VOYCE students

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With more Noble Street charter schools opening next year, the student advocacy group Voices of Youth in Chicago Education and the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law charged Tuesday that some of their practices are so unfair that they shouldn’t be allowed to expand.

The two reasons? They expel more students than traditional CPS schools and they don’t enroll as many special education students.

The groups picked an unlikely audience to make this plea: the Illinois Charter School Commission. The Illinois Charter School Commission was created by the state legislature last year in order to hear appeals from charters denied by local school districts.

The organizations said charter commission members told them there was not much they could do. Their next step is to appeal to the Illinois State Board of Education and the state legislature. The students also introduced a hotline that students, parents and teachers can call if they are being pushed out of charter schools. (The number is 872-216-0368)

“Charter schools can not choose who they want to teach with public money,” said Jamie Adams, a student at Roosevelt High School and a member of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council. “The problem of push outs is a problem at all schools and charter schools are no exceptions.”

The student activists say they have data to prove their case. For every 1,000 students at Noble Street, 8.4 have been expelled and at Perspectives 17.5, according to VOYCE, which submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the charter schools. Chicago Public Schools have a rate of 1.1 expulsions per 1000 students, according to CPS information analyzed by VOYCE. (Catalyst wrote about the charter school push-out issue in 2010.)

Charter schools are allowed to adopt their own Code of Conduct. Noble School’s Code of Conduct is based on the philosophy of “sweating the small stuff” and students get demerits for small infractions, like not tucking in a shirt or wearing a belt. In addition to being given detentions, they are also fined.

Noble Street leaders responded to the criticism by saying that they expel students to ensure a safe environment. They say that comparing their expulsion rate to that of all of CPS is “comparing apples to oranges.” Noble Street runs high schools (except for one elementary school) and high school expulsion rates are much higher than those for elementary schools.  

Further, a statement from Noble Street notes that dropout and mobility rates are lower than the district’s.

“I am responsible for my students’ safety,” says Lauryn Fullerton, principal of a Noble campus in the south side Auburn Gresham neighborhood.  “While it does not happen often, there are times when we must remove a student.  These are not minor offenses, but actions that put our students in grave danger.  While I wish that every student could remain at Noble, we cannot allow the safety of our schools to be compromised.”

Parent stressed over expulsion, pushout

But one mother said her son was expelled without getting any help and that it came after her son had a lot of problems dealing with the strict rules at Noble Street.

Lidia Cortez says freshman year her son got a demerit every week as a student at Noble Street’s Chicago Bulls campus A demerit meant he got charged $5 and had to do a three-hour detention. Because of suspensions and demerits, he had to go to summer school for two classes. The summer courses cost $165.

When he returned to Noble for sophomore year, he became distant and moody. He started smoking weed and even ran away from home at one point. Yet she eventually got him to listen to her and he started to do better.

Then, Cortez says she got a call from the discipline dean that she dreaded. “When he calls you, it is never good news,” she says.

School officials had gone into her son’s friend’s Facebook page to find out about an impending fight and happened on an exchange about marijuana. Cortez says her son told her the conversation was two months old, but the school accused him of possession with intent to distribute.

When the expulsion hearing happened nearly a month later, she says it seemed like the expulsion was a foregone conclusion. “The hearing was at 11 and at 3 p.m., I got an e-mail that they are recommending him for expulsion,” she says.

Students expelled from charter schools can enroll in traditional schools, unless CPS law officials determine the infraction would have been cause for expulsion from one of their schools.

Cortez says she enrolled her son in Schurz, where he is getting As and doing well.

“It was a long and disappointing process, she says. “There should be consequences, but they took it too far.”

Like Cortez, Marsha Goddard said she feels betrayed by Noble Street. She had high hopes for the school, but her son has gotten so many demerits and detentions that she wants to take him out of Noble Street’s Bulls campus at the end of this year. 

She says he has missed a lot of school due to some 20 to 25 suspensions he got over the past two years. Yet she says he hasn’t done anything all that bad and has decent grades.

Not only that, but she estimates that she owes the school some $3,000. “I can’t afford it,” she said. “It is unrealistic.”

Yet she isn’t completely sure she will transfer him. She doesn’t want him to go to the neighborhood high school and she has no where else to take him.

Special education students missing

Furthermore, the advocates point out that charter schools don’t serve as many special education students and serve those with less severe disabilities. About 2.2 percent of CPS students have profound disabilities, compared to 0.4 percent of those at charters in general. (Catalyst wrote about this disparity in the spring issue of In Depth. )

The group took particular aim at Noble Street, which is scheduled to open two more campuses this year, one co-located with Corliss High School and the other with Bowen. But Corliss has about 24 percent of students in special education and Bowen has about 28 percent. Current Noble Street charters have about 12 percent.