Senate bill 100 aims to combat discrimination

Meghan Ward, News Editor

In 2016, issues of racial inequality are in the forefront of American discourse. The Black Lives Matter movement and a grueling, divisive election have spurred discussions about racism in America.

One issue activists have railed against is the “school-to-prison-pipeline”, a system where higher suspension and expulsion rates for students of color eventually lead to higher incarceration rates for people of color. According to the U.S. Department of Education, black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. Principal Nathaniel Rouse sees this trend at OPRF. “If you were to look at our discipline stats now, African-American students at OPRF have still received suspensions at a disproportionate rate,” he says.

Senate Bill 100 was created to address these disparities. The bill took effect in Illinois in September. It has curtailed the ability of schools to implement more severe punishments, and eliminated “zero tolerance” policies. This means schools are now required to exhaust all appropriate and available disciplinary measures before resorting to suspensions and expulsions.

Illinois suspends proportionally more African-American students than any other state in the U.S.”

— Joel Rodriguez

The bill was created by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), an activist organization led by students of color from across Illinois. VOYCE organizer Joel Rodriguez says the organization created the bill to help reduce drop-out rates for students of color.

“Illinois suspends proportionally more African-American students than any other state in the U.S.” Rodriguez says. “Research shows that students who are suspended or expelled become six times more likely to repeat a grade, five times more likely to drop out, and nearly three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the next year.”

To help create a new disciplinary code of conduct for OPRF to ipromote racial equity, the Culture Climate Behavior Committee (CCB) was formed last school year. Members include OPRF faculty, parents, students, and community representatives. Senior Kayla York, a CCB member, says the committee has worked this year to promote restorative justice measures in place of suspensions and expulsions. “We talked about restorative justice practices, like sitting down with a coach or a counselor rather than going straight to a suspension,” she says.

Rouse, another CCB member, describes Senate Bill 100’s impact on disciplinary policies. “Our Student Intervention Directors are spending a lot more of their time talking with students and families as opposed to suspending students,” he says.

Statistics are not yet available for how the bill has changed the number of suspensions and expulsions given out. However, Rouse is optimistic about the change. “I believe the end result thus far has been an effective balance between maintaining a positive and safe environment and providing additional support for students when needed to address student behavior.”