The Chicago model

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A number of the changes in the District’s discipline policy are modeled on policies CEO Paul Vallas implemented as schools chief in Chicago. Vallas implemented a "zero tolerance" policy that required principals to report serious student offenses to the central office. The policy resulted in a significant increase in expulsions.

Vallas also created a system of alternative discipline schools, using several private providers. The program was known as "Safe Schools." A 1999 report in Catalyst, a monthly magazine covering the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), described the program’s beginning:

In October 1995, the board issued a request for proposals (RFP) to organizations that had worked at least two years with troubled youth. Announcing the winners in December, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas said, "Our goal is to remove violent students from the school system. These children impede the learning process of our student population." In February 1996, CPS’s Safe Schools opened with room for 558 students.

Catalyst reported in 1999 that "the Safe Schools Program also has been a revolving door for school operators. Only three of the original 12 providers remain in the program."

Another program implemented in Chicago was the SMART program, a Saturday program started as an alternative to expulsion for students caught with drugs. Students were required to attend for seven weeks and do community service.