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Black CPS student suspension rates fall but still highest by far

Chicago Public Schools expelled and suspended fewer students last school year than the year before, though African-American students still are disproportionately removed from classrooms and schools more than other students, according to data the district released Friday.

Black students accounted for 39 percent of district-run and charter school students but 68 percent of 61,349 suspensions and 81 percent of expulsions in the 2014-15 school year.

At charter schools, black students accounted for 82 percent of expulsions, up from 77 percent in 2013-14, but in district-operated schools, expulsions of African-American students fell to 76 percent from 87 percent.

That’s despite district suggestions — but not requirements — that the disciplinary practices at the publicly-funded but privately-managed schools more closely mirror CPS’. Among the loudest criticisms of charter schools is that they push children out at much higher rates than district-run schools since their standards differ.

By contrast, Hispanic students made up 45.6 percent of students but only 27 percent of suspensions and 18 percent of expulsions. White students made up about 9 percent of enrollment but just 3 percent of suspensions. No white students were expelled during the 2014-15 school year.

“It’s clear that much progress has been made, but much work remains to reduce punitive discipline rates for African-American students,” Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said in a statement. “It’s a major priority for the district to increase the use of supportive and restorative practices that increase students’ learning time, and that is especially true in the case of students who face disproportionate rates of punitive discipline. We’ve made progress shifting the culture of the district, and we’ll remain focused on continuing to expand this holistic approach.”

Former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who resigned in disgrace last year and is awaiting sentencing in a contract-rigging scheme, changed CPS’ Student Code of Conduct in 2014 as part of a national push away from “zero-tolerance” punishment. For example, the district replaced “defiance” as a reason alone to suspend children with descriptions of specific behaviors.

CPS said it has continued to invest in “restorative justice” programs that coach and counsel instead of just punishing, though the Chicago Teachers Union has questioned the depth of the district’s commitment to the idea.

According to the district, 58 more schools are currently receiving coaching to help the schools’ climates and 74 are getting similar help from community partners.

The district also said it has worked with charter operators to train them in the same practices that are keeping CPS students in classrooms — but it cannot under state law require them to change their discipline practices.