Rauner signs into law sweeping school discipline reform

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Chicago has seen a big drop in the number of students suspended and/or kicked out of school. It happened after public schools in the city abolished a so-called zero-tolerance policy.

Now, a new state law signed this week by Governor Bruce Rauner aims to extend those changes statewide.

A study in 2010 found 1-in-4 African-American students enrolled in Illinois public schools had been suspended.

Carlil Pittman was one of them, after he was found skipping class.

“A security guard saw me. He grabbed me, "You're not supposed to be in here!" He took me into the disciplinary office. "Let me see his grades. Let me see his attendance. OK, let's drop him!" said Pittman.

Now 22, Pittman was then 16. He and his mother did not appeal the expulsion. He eventually transferred to and graduated on time from Gage Park High School. But thousands of other young African-Americans have not been as fortunate.

After getting kicked out of school, they never return to class, instead traveling on what some call the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Students were being suspended or expelled for walking past a fight or laughing too loudly in the hallway. To us, those suspensions and expulsions are things that don't make sense,” said Safe Schools Consortium Jose Sanchez.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided it didn't make sense to him, either.

Three years ago, Chicago Public Schools adopted a new discipline code, replacing the old "zero-tolerance" policy, allowing principals and teachers new flexibility. 

CPS reported suspensions declined 36 percent between the 2010-11 school year and last year.

A new law signed by Gov. Rauner now aims to replicate that statewide. Effective in September, 2016, it prohibits "zero-tolerance" discipline and limits out-of-school suspensions longer than 3 days to cases where a student threatens the safety of others, disrupts the school, or has already gone through alternative discipline, including so-called "in-school suspensions" -- a student is temporarily taken out of class, but continues school work with a special teacher.

“We're trying other alternatives, rather than pushing students out of school and pushing them into the student-to-prison pipeline,” Pittman said.

After ending "zero tolerance," some schools in Chicago and the suburbs have created "Peer Juries," giving offenders an option to be judged by their fellow students.

"Restorative Justice" is one concept, giving troublemakers a chance to set things right, for instance helping a neighbor they’ve hurt.