Thank you so much for Diane Rado’s excellent Tribune article, "Minorities Unequally Disciplined in High School" (Page 1, Sept. 26). At the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights we have been working to combat many of the inequities discussed in your article and have found that lack of data is proving to be a substantial hurdle in the fight for egalitarian discipline.
Although the Office of civil rights is now logging information about police referrals, their data continues to have substantial gaps. No data is provided on which individual schools within a given district are suspending and expelling the most students. No breakdown is provided by individual offense. No information is given about the individual records of students facing suspension or expulsion.
Last month, Daniel Losen and Jonathan Gillespie at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA published a comprehensive analysis of this year’s Office for Civil Rights report. Yet despite having access to the full range of data provided, their ultimate recommendations were focused largely on the need for still more data. They advise parents and children’s advocates to request data on discipline from your school and district, and suggest that members of the media request that districts provide disaggregated discipline data on a regular basis and report it to the public.
School officials are able to hide behind these gaps in data. It can be all too easy for a principal with no access to school-by-school data to say, “This problem isn’t me, it isn’t my school. The absence of a breakdown by individual offense and prior disciplinary history allows individuals to persist in the erroneous belief that black and Hispanic students are punished more harshly solely because they are committing more serious offenses.
These gaps in data have stymied the legal community as to how best to fight the problem. The Educational Equity Project at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee is able to fight the issue on a case-by-case basis by providing pro bono representation to Chicago Public Schools students facing expulsion. Many other organizations, including Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Equip for Equality, The Legal Assistance Foundation and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless are running similar expulsion representation projects, sometimes providing services to suburban students as well. We are also able to litigate some of the inequities that may play a causal role in creating disciplinary discrepancies. For instance, we are currently a part of a lawsuit dealing with inequities in resource distribution between primarily white and primarily Hispanic schools in the Elgin Public Schools system. But in order to bring a large-scale lawsuit on disparities in school discipline we need more data, and so far CPS has been able to deflect our Freedom of Information Act requests by declaring that providing the needed information would be unduly burdensome.
We are working to convince CPS officials to release comprehensive data on suspensions voluntarily. After all, Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on a platform of transparency, Arnie Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, has sung the praises of the new, and CPS CEP, Jean-Claude Brizard, has clearly stated that he aims to reduce suspensions in CPS schools this year. Releasing the data on suspensions would help start a dialogue on where the problem is most serious. It would help the legal community figure out the next steps for tackling this problem. And it would pave the way for suburban communities like those discussed in your article to follow suit.
We commend you and other members of the media for your excellent coverage of the harsh inequities in discipline that students in the Chicago area face and hope that we can work together to push for increased transparency and accountability with respect to school disciplinary procedures.
— Jay Readey, Executive Director, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee