Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Should Chicago schools provide arrest info?

A civil rights group sued the Chicago Public Schools earlier this month in an effort to obtain information about the number and demographics of students who are arrested by police within the city’s schools, Courthouse News reports.

According to the complaint, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law asked for, through a standard Freedom of Information Act request, records about policing in schools, possible police misconduct, and arrests of children at school. The information is needed in order for the center to discourage “over reliance on arrest, prosecution, and incarceration to address behavior and status issues.”

But Chicago Public Schools replied, again according to the one-sided complaint, that they don’t maintain the requested records or documents and that there’s not enough public interest in the subject to justify the work that would be required to provide the information.

Illinois’s FOIA requires schools to justify why certain requested information isn’t provided, and simply not having a database of all the complaints received doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. However, the alleged “not enough public interest” claim, if true, would suffice and render the schools correct in denying the request.

Normally, FOIA requests are for existing documents or records the school maintains. If no such documents exist, the school can deny the request, but the requester can appeal on the grounds that the school has “information” pertinent to the request that it could compile or provide access to—say, by giving the requester limited access to a school database system. The school, if forced to provide the information, is even allowed to bill the requester for any work school personnel do in order to fulfill the request.

But more commonly, if records or documents don’t already exist, the school is likely to prevail on appeal. That’s what this case will find out.

The issue of arresting students

Wisdom for decades says that it’s better in the long term to treat a behavior problem as a behavior problem or disciplinary issue, not as a crime that would require police intervention.

School districts have sought to curb the flow of students into the court system by changing their relationship with school resource officers. For example, Denver Public Schools has placed limits on the role of SROs and implemented training to increase their effectiveness in these roles. After a campaign by Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a local parent and student-led community organization, and the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, DPS collaborated with stakeholders to revise its district-wide discipline code. This collaboration culminated in two intergovernmental agreements, an initial one in 2007 and a subsequent one in 2013, which focus on resolving discipline issues without criminal punishment and on using restorative justice strategies in lieu of harsh punishments.

Closer to home, the University of Chicago studied the involvement of police in the city’s schools a few years ago. Schools have to bring police in under certain circumstances, including physical altercations and the use of drugs or weapons; it’s recommended they bring police in for other issues; and policy requires they handle other issues without the police.

The U of C study found that the number of arrests made in schools is on the decline: Only about 6 percent of CPS students were arrested during the 2011-2012 academic year, down from about 8 percent in 2006-2007. And while black boys were arrested at nearly double the rate of all other groups, they also showed the biggest drop between the two years of the study.

“In an effort to minimize the school to prison pipeline, school arrest data is critical in determining whether students are being arrested for offenses that should only warrant disciplinary intervention by school officials and not formal arrests,” Shriver states in its lawsuit.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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