Chicago Schools Accused of Hiding Arrest Records

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CHICAGO (CN) – A social advocacy group claims in court that administrators for Chicago Public Schools refuse to turn over information about arrests of children in city schools.

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law sued the CPS Board of Education on Friday in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming it violated the Freedom of Information Act by not producing records about policing in schools, possible police misconduct and arrests of children at school.

“Shriver’s Community Justice team advocates for law, policy and procedure reforms that discourage over reliance on arrest, prosecution, and incarceration to address behavior and status issues,” the complaint states, adding that the center partnered with another group, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, to recommend better disciplinary policies in CPS schools.

Shriver requested records about complaints made to CPS involving police officers and security guards in its schools, as well as other employee misconduct data, based on a concern that discipline in city schools “has created a school to prison pipeline that disproportionately harms minority children,” according to the lawsuit.

The group wanted to know how and why children were arrested at school to evaluate the conduct of the adults involved.

Shriver claims CPS told the group it does not maintain a complaints database and there is not enough public interest in the topic to justify the work required to produce the requested records.

“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,” the group counters in its Dec. 16 lawsuit.

Shriver’s complaint says “the lack of oversight of police officers assigned to CPS coupled with their unchecked authority to arrest students in an educational environment exacerbates the school to prison pipeline and disproportionately harms children of color.”

The group seeks a court order for CPS to turn over the requested records. It is represented by its own attorney, Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, and Joshua Burday of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago.

CPS did not respond Monday to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

According to a 2015 report from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, arrests of children in CPS schools are on the decline.

About 6 percent of students were arrested during the 2011-2012 year, down from 8 percent in 2006-2007. Two-thirds of those arrests were due to incidents that occurred outside of school.

The study found that although black boys are still arrested at twice the rate of others, they have shown the most significant decrease over recent years.

Schools are generally not involving police at all, even when they are supposed to, according to the study. More than 40 percent of police notifications were for incidents that required officials to do so, 22 percent for incidents in which it is recommended, and only 3 percent when police involvement is unwarranted.

Most police responses are due to physical altercations and drugs or weapons being brought to school. School administrators told researchers they normally only contact police when fights involve multiple people, gangs or weapons.