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VOYCE’s Groundbreaking Bill, SB 100, to Address “School-to-Prison Pipeline” Passes Illinois Legislature

A bill passed by the Illinois House of Representatives on May 20 will require sweeping changes in the use of punitive school discipline practices across the state. Senate Bill 100, which was approved last month in the Senate with bipartisan support, represents perhaps the most aggressive and comprehensive effort ever made by a state to address the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

SB 100 prioritizes the creation of safe and orderly schools while seeking to address excessive use of the most severe forms of discipline. Under the legislation students can only be suspended, expelled or referred to an alternative school if all other “appropriate and available” alternatives are exhausted. In other words, suspensions and expulsions become the last resort, rather than the first response.

Additionally, the bill provides struggling students with academic and behavioral supports, and promotes fairness by holding public schools and charter schools to the same standards for school discipline. The final House vote count was 73 yes – 41 no, with broad support from both Republicans and Democrats. SB 100 is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

The effort to pass SB 100 was led by VOYCE (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education), a group of mostly high school students from Chicago. They created the bill in 2012 to address the impact of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions on their peers and schools. For over two years, dozens of students traveled regularly to the Capitol in Springfield to educate their legislators on how disciplinary practices were pushing students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Dalia Mena, an 18 year old member of VOYCE from Steinmentz High School stated that, “For too long, harsh school discipline practices have contributed to the under-education and over-criminalization of young people, and especially youth of color,” said Dalia . “Illinois legislators have demonstrated that by listening to students, we can create schools where all students are valued and supported in their learning. SB 100 makes Illinois go from one of the worst states when it comes to overusing exclusionary discipline, to being a national leader with a model for other states to follow.”

Illinois has one of the widest disparities between suspended black and white students in the country, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In the 2012-13 school year, Chicago Public Schools issued 32 out-of-school suspensions for every 100 black students, compared to just five for every 100 white students. Overall, Illinois students lose over one million instructional days per year as a result of suspensions, expulsions and arrests.

“In schools all across our state, African-American students are disciplined more harshly than white students. As legislators, we saw that this was a serious problem–and that it required our immediate attention. We went to work engaging educators, administrators, parents, students and experts to help us build support for SB 100. Through that process and hard work, we have passed SB 100, a common sense solution to ending this disparity and making our schools safer and stronger. Thanks to SB 100, Illinois is a national leader with a model piece of legislation,” said Senator Kimberly Lightford, chief sponsor of SB 100 in the Illinois Senate.

Many districts in Illinois had extremely high suspension rates. For example, there were 47 out-of-school
suspensions for every 100 students in Thornton Township HSD 205 (South Holland), 36 for every 100 in
Proviso Township HSD 209 (Forest Park), and 30 per 100 in Thornton Township HSD 215 (Calumet City).

Extensive research shows that overly harsh discipline approaches are particularly harmful to students of color and do not promote school safety or academic achievement. Last year, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidelines on school discipline practices and warned against the discriminatory use of “zero-tolerance” policies on students of color and those with disabilities. The guidelines call on school districts to focus on creating positive school climates and to use suspensions and expulsions only as a last resort.

“For Illinois, SB 100 represents a step forward, that allows schools to maintain control, while providing guidelines for schools to follow so that our students remain in school and on track to graduate,” said Representative Will Davis, chief sponsor of SB 100 in the Illinois House. “For far too long, the issue of overusing suspensions and expulsions has devastated the most vulnerable in our communities but today Illinois became a leader with SB 100 serving as a common sense solution.”

To learn more about SB 100, click hereFor more information, contact Jose I. Sanchez at jose@voyceproject.org or at (773) 827-6324.