Voice of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) deserves tremendous praise for their latest victory—passing a groundbreaking school discipline reform bill through the Illinois Legislature. This bill is sorely needed, as Chicago schools struggle with the overuse of harsh school disciplinary practices that are disproportionately levied against students of color. By ending the use of "zero tolerance" policies and restricting administrators' use of suspensions and expulsions, VOYCE's bill will help make Illinois schools more welcoming environments for students.
The University of Chicago recently conducted a study in which they found that 1 our of 7 Chicago school students were suspended during the 2013-2014 school year. Students of color fared even worse, with, for example, almost one third of African American boys receiving an out of school suspension. These high suspension rates significantly reduced class time for students and, consequently, interrupt their learning. Another problem is that suspensions are often given out for highly subjective behaviors, such as "defiance"—and being so subjective, such behaviors are more likely to be influenced by things like racial bias.
Luckily, these problems should begin to change once VOYCE's bill, SB100, is signed into law by the governor, who favors the bill. SB100 would take effect in September 2016 and would:
- Eliminate zero tolerance policies
- Restrict harsh disciplinary consequences, like out of school suspensions
- Ensure these harsh consequences are used only for educational purposes, not to punish students
- Promote proven disciplinary alternatives like restorative justice
- Hold charter schools to the same standards as traditional public schools
You can read more about the impact of the bill here.
As Dalia Mena, a member of VOYCE, says:
"For too long, harsh school discipline practices have contributed to the under-education and over-criminalization of young people, and especially youth of color. Illinois legislators have demonstrated that by listening to students, we can create schools where all students are valued and supported in their learning. SB 100 makes Illinois go from one of the worst states when it comes to overusing exclusionary discipline, to being a national leader with a model for other states to follow."
To learn more about VOYCE's work on this bill and what it will mean for the students of Illinois, read their press release here.