On November 13, the Civic Action Network and nearly 150 community leaders held a rally to launch the High HOPES (Healing Over the Punishment of Expulsions and Suspensions) campaign and call for a public commitment from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials and mayoral hopefuls to reduce the rate of student suspension and expulsions by 40 percent next school year.
The campaign was born out of Catalyst Chicago’s story, “Reaching Black Boys,” which exposed the extraordinarily high rates of suspensions and expulsions in CPS, especially among African-American male students. Suspension and expulsion can put students on the fast track to dropping out, unemployment, or incarceration. More than 100 people attended the launch rally, including mayoral candidate and Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle.
In the 2008-2009 school year there were more than 43,000 students suspended and 600 students expelled from Chicago Public Schools. This is roughly one suspension for every eight CPS students. Many of these suspensions were for low-level, non-violent behavior. African-American male students, who represent only 25 percent of CPS students, represented over 45 percent of suspensions and more than 60 percent of expulsions. This disparity mirrors the over representation of minorities in prisons and jails.
Suspensions and expulsions affect student performance and graduation:
- Attendance is the most important determinant of passing classes and graduating. Even a week of absence per semester substantially increases the likelihood of failing a class.
- A student who is suspended just once is three times more likely to drop out of school.
- In 2006-2007, nationwide, more than half of high school dropouts ages 16-24 were jobless in an average month.
- 23 out of 100 male dropouts aged 16-24 were incarcerated in 2006-2007.Male dropouts were more than 47 times as likely as those who had finished college to be incarcerated.
In 2007, Chicago Public Schools officially ended the "zero tolerance" discipline policy and adopted the philosophy of Restorative Justice in the new Student Code of Conduct. However, since that time, suspensions and expulsions have continued to rise and CPS has failed to consistently implement this policy.
The High HOPES Campaign is a coalition of Chicago-based community organizations, including the Community Renewal Society, Enlace Chicago, Family Focus Lawndale and POWER-PAC, along with other organizations. They join together in advocating for CPS to reduce suspensions and expulsions through the implementation of restorative justice programs and other proven strategies.