School-to-Prison

Black and Hispanic students in New York City most likely to be arrested and handcuffed, data shows

PHOTO: Photo courtesy of the Center for Popular Democracy
Students and advocates held a rally outside education department headquarters last week to call for an end to school arrests and summonses.

More than 92 percent of students arrested in schools last year were black or Hispanic, according to a new analysis — a racial disparity that has persisted even as the city has reduced in-school arrests and summonses.

While just over two-thirds of students are black or Hispanic, they received about 87 percent of criminal summonses issued inside schools, according to an analysis of 2016-2017 school year data by the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Center for Popular Democracy. Just over 1,100 students were arrested and 805 were issued summonses during that period, which spans from July 2016 to June 2017, the analysis of police department data shows.

Black girls were nearly 13 times more likely to be arrested than white girls, while black boys were almost 8 times more likely to be arrested than white boys, according to the groups, which have called for a ban on most school arrests and summonses.

Black and Hispanic students also accounted for 96 percent of students handcuffed during “child-in-crisis” incidents, in which students in emotional distress are removed from their classrooms and taken to a hospital for a mental-health evaluation. The police responded to more than 2,700 such incidents during this period.

Disparities in arrests, and treatment by the police and within the criminal justice system, have been a flashpoint in race relations nationwide, culminating recently in widespread protests within the NFL as football players, and now even team owners, have taken a knee during the singing of the national anthem to highlight the problem. The issue has long been a subject of contention within schools, as has the frequency of involvement by the police in resolving school discipline matters.

An Education Week Research Center analysis earlier this year found that black students are arrested in schools at disproportionately high levels in 43 states and the District of Columbia — possibly because they are more likely than students of any other race or ethnicity to attend schools with on-site police.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged schools to adopt less harsh discipline policies and, during his tenure, suspensions have dropped by 30 percent. However, as with arrests and summonses, black students remain disproportionately likely to be suspended.

School safety agents, the unarmed guards embedded in some schools, have continued to arrest or issue summonses to fewer students under de Blasio. But police officers are behind the vast majority of school arrests and summonses, which advocates say is a problem since they are not specially trained in working with students.

In 2016, 60 percent of school arrests were for misdemeanors and 39 percent for felonies; assault and robbery were the most common charges, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union report in May. The majority of summonses stemmed from marijuana possession or disorderly conduct, which covers offenses such as fighting or using profanities.

Advocates want the city to eliminate in-school arrests, summonses, and juvenile reports — which are given to children younger than 16 — for misdemeanors and non-criminal violations. They note that schools already discipline students for those infractions — sometimes with lengthy suspensions — which they say makes it unnecessary to involve the police and courts.

“Clearly there’s an issue with discriminatory policing in schools,” said Kesi Foster, a coordinator with the Urban Youth Collaborative. “It’s also unnecessary policing.”

To push for this change, the collaborative helped stage a rally outside education department headquarters Friday that organizers said drew dozens of students.

The police department press office referred questions to the education department.

Education department officials said they are working to address the racial disparities in harsh punishments. They pointed to several initiatives meant to improve the way schools respond to student misbehavior, including de-escalation training for staff and the hiring of additional guidance counselors.

The agency also helps secure free legal assistance for students who have received summonses, and has included 71 schools in a pilot program where students aged 16 or older receive warning cards instead of criminal summonses for marijuana possession or disorderly conduct.

“Last year was the safest school year on record, crime in schools is at an all-time low, and school-based arrests and summonses are continuing to decline across the city,” department spokeswoman Toya Holness said in a statement.

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These were our 10 most-read Chicago education stories in 2018

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel / Chalkbeat
A story about a 16-year-old student struggling to read was one of our most-read stories of the year. Here his aunt, Katrina Falkner, heads into his high school for a meeting with the special education team.

From a principal’s first-person column on personalized learning to a profile of a teen struggling to read, these were our most-read stories of the year.

  1. Trauma can make it hard for kids to learn. Here’s how teachers learn to deal with that. This conversation with a child psychologist from Lurie Children’s Hospital who advises local educators on identifying and handling trauma resonated with educators and parents alike.
  2. Meet Javion: He’s 16 and struggling to read in Chicago schools. How did 16-year-old Javion Grayer end up in high school barely able to read? This story examines how many forces in the city and its schools can threaten learning.
  3. I’m a principal who thinks personalized learning shouldn’t be a debate. This first-person column from Lisa Epstein, the principal of Lee Elementary, was the most read column we published this year. “Personalized learning looks different in every classroom,” she writes, “but the common thread is that we now make decisions looking at the student.”
  4. Rauner and Pritzker are at odds over most education issues — but agree on this one point. Hint: It’s money. But listening back to the interviews with the candidates, which we conducted in partnership with WBEZ, helps paint a picture of the state of education in Illinois.
  5.  How one Chicago principal is leaning on data to help black boys. The stakes are high. Black boys, especially those from low-income households, are more prone than their sisters to falling behind in school and running into the juvenile criminal justice system. Here’s how one principal is making inroads at her school.
  6. Secret CPS report spotlights big vacancies, lopsided options for students. The report has already been cited as reasoning in district-level decision-making.
  7. Is your school one of the city’s top rated? Our database of school ratings included a school’s total points scored on the Chicago rating system, known as SQRP.
  8. Three out of four kids aren’t ready for kindergarten. The data is the first look statewide at how many children show up to kindergarten prepared.
  9. Three Chicago principals and the war against Fs.“Fs and Ds are worthless,” one principal exclaimed. We looked at his case. 
  10. Why Noble teachers say Noble CEO’s downfall could boost unionization efforts. This story is one of many we’ll continue to watch in 2019.

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A look back on the biggest stories of 2018 in Indianapolis Public Schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat

It was a tumultuous year for Indianapolis Public Schools — and one that ended with a dramatic change in leadership.

The district’s growing number of innovation schools won national praise from charter advocates. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee touted the district’s decentralized, autonomous schools in front of charter-friendly groups such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Capping off the year, Ferebee’s selection as the new chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school district affirmed both his rise and the district’s among national education circles.

But on the ground, some teachers and community members raised concerns over proposals to convert schools under the innovation strategy and the upheaval that those changes could wreak. Unhappiness also brewed over high school closures.

And underlying the year was a tough financial situation, which drove the district to ask for more funding through property tax increases, re-negotiating the requests until they were palatable to business leaders.

Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of 2018 in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Inside an innovation restart

Indianapolis Public Schools now has some 20 innovation schools. Go beyond the political divisions to peer inside one to see what the changes mean for students, parents, and educators.

At School 42, some parents were initially wary about a proposal to restart the chronically struggling school with an outside operator. One year in, they talk about the added extracurricular activities, the new approach to discipline, and the increased community engagement. They also talk about the teachers who left and the steep challenges the school still faces.

Read more: Inside a struggling Indianapolis school during its pivotal first year of innovation

Who will be in charge?

The school board is expected to start its search for a new superintendent in January. While some board members say they’d like someone who will continue Ferebee’s innovation schools strategy, it remains to be seen whether the entire board will agree — particularly newcomers skeptical of the approach.

One big question is whether the board will conduct a national search to bring in another outsider for the job, or whether board members will look internally for a homegrown leader, such as interim superintendent Aleesia Johnson. Read on to see why she would be likely to continue Ferebee’s innovation strategy.

Read more: What you need to know about Aleesia Johnson, IPS’ interim superintendent

A power shift

Two outsiders who have been critical of the Indianapolis Public Schools board defeated incumbents in November’s election, a change that could prove pivotal for a district that has garnered a national reputation for its partnerships with charter schools.

Read more: How backlash to big changes in Indianapolis Public Schools fueled board upsets

Follow the money

Indiana’s largest school system is embarking on an unusual, three-year partnership with the local chamber of commerce designed to carry out extensive cuts that the business group proposed for balancing the district’s budget, including possible school closures, reduced transportation, and staff reductions.

Read more: IPS and Indy Chamber outline unconventional three-year partnership to cut spending

National spotlight

A high-profile “60 Minutes” interview with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos highlighted an Indianapolis innovation school, Cold Spring School.

Cold Spring was the location for one of the most awkward moments of the segment, when “60 Minutes” reporter Lesley Stahl asked DeVos if it hurt to be “the most hated Cabinet secretary.”

Read more: You probably didn’t notice Betsy DeVos was at an Indianapolis school on ‘60 Minutes’

Something different

Purdue Polytechnic High School doesn’t have traditional classrooms. That’s because its founders are aiming to redesign high school with the ultimate, ambitious goal of creating a school that will prepare more students for degrees in science, technology, math, and engineering — particularly students of color and those from low-income families.

Read more: Purdue is trying to upend the traditional high school model. Here’s what it looks like

Teacher leadership

Indianapolis Public Schools educators at School 107 say a new teacher leadership program, known as opportunity culture, has dramatically stemmed teacher turnover: It gives new teachers, who can often feel overwhelmed, support. And it allows experienced teachers to take on more responsibility without leaving the classroom.

Read more: Teachers kept quitting this Indianapolis school. Here’s how the principal got them to stay

Holding the reins

Indianapolis’ largest district is pursuing a new vision for education that aims to shift power from the central office to building principals. But as leaders move forward with their plan, they are facing a host of questions over how — and when — to cede control.

Read more: As Indianapolis moves to give principals more freedom, tough choices are on the horizon