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Downstate and suburban school districts find a way around state discipline law

Thursday, Apr 28, 2022

* ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune

The courthouse lobby echoed like a crowded school cafeteria. Teenagers in sweatshirts and sneakers gossiped and scrolled on their phones as they clutched the yellow tickets that police had issued them at school.

Abigail, a 16-year-old facing a $200 penalty for truancy, missed school again while she waited hours for a prosecutor to call her name. Sophia, a 14-year-old looking at $175 in fines and fees after school security caught her with a vape pen, sat on her mother’s lap.

A boy named Kameron, who had shoved his friend over a Lipton peach iced tea in the school cafeteria, had been cited for violating East Peoria’s municipal code forbidding “assault, battery, and affray.” He didn’t know what that phrase meant; he was 12 years old.

“He was wrong for what he did, but this is a bit extreme for the first time being in trouble. He isn’t even a teenager yet,” Shannon Poole said as her son signed a plea agreement that came with $250 in fines and fees. They spent three hours at the courthouse as Kameron missed math, social studies and science.

The nearly 30 students summoned to the Tazewell County Courthouse that January morning were not facing criminal charges; they’d received tickets for violating a municipal ordinance while at school. Each was presented with a choice: agree to pay a fine or challenge the ticket at a later hearing. Failing to pay, they were told, could bring adult consequences, from losing their driving privileges to harming their future credit scores.

Across Illinois, police are ticketing thousands of students a year for in-school adolescent behavior once handled only by the principal’s office — for littering, for making loud noises, for using offensive words or gestures, for breaking a soap dish in the bathroom.

Ticketing students violates the intent of an Illinois law that prohibits schools from fining students as a form of discipline. Instead of issuing fines directly, school officials refer students to police, who then ticket them for municipal ordinance violations, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica has found. (Use our interactive database to look up how many and what kinds of tickets have been issued in an Illinois public school or district.)

Another state law prohibits schools from notifying police when students are truant so officers can ticket them. But the investigation found dozens of school districts routinely fail to follow this law.

“Basically schools are using this as a way to have municipalities do their dirty work,” said Jackie Ross, an attorney at Loyola University Chicago’s ChildLaw Clinic who specializes in school discipline. “It’s the next iteration of the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools might be patting themselves on the back and saying it’s just the school-to-municipality pipeline, but it’s the same philosophy.”

At the assembly-line hearings where many of these cases are handled, students have no right to legal representation and little chance to defend themselves against charges that can have long-term consequences. Ticket fines can be hundreds of dollars, presenting an impossible burden for some families, and administrative or court fees of up to $150 are often tacked on.

Unpaid fines are sometimes sent to collections or deducted from parents’ tax refunds. And, unlike records from juvenile court, these cases can’t be expunged under state law.

No government entity tracks student ticketing, either in Illinois or nationally. Though a handful of communities in other states have sought to limit the practice, Illinois has not tried to monitor it, even after lawmakers attempted several years ago to stop schools from fining students as discipline. The Tribune and ProPublica quantified school tickets through more than 500 Freedom of Information Act requests to school districts and police departments, focusing on nearly 200 high-school-only districts and large K-12 districts.

In all, the investigation documented more than 11,800 tickets issued during the last three school years, even though the COVID-19 pandemic kept students out of school for much of that period and even though records show no students were ticketed in the state’s biggest district, the Chicago Public Schools.

The analysis of 199 districts, which together encompass more than 86% of the state’s high school students, found that ticketing occurred in at least 141. In some K-12 districts, tickets were issued to children as young as 8. […]

The chief sponsor of the discipline legislation in the House, Democratic Rep. William Davis, called school-related ticketing “in opposition” to the law. Current House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, also a sponsor, agreed and said legislators should revisit the law.

Emphasis added.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

37 Comments
  1. - Homebody - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 9:38 am:

    “Evil” may be too strong a word, but I honestly have trouble figuring out how to describe people who think criminal charges or financial penalties are the way to handle a 12 year old shoving another one in the cafeteria.


  2. - Bothanspied - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 9:54 am:

    >>students have no right to legal representation

    Wait, what?


  3. - Jocko - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 9:58 am:

    I was surprised to see schools in DuPage and Cook county. That they could entertain the thought of sending fines to collections is pretty despicable.


  4. - TheInvisibleMan - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 9:59 am:

    Used the search tool on the site to look up the school district I live in;

    “At least one municipality in this district confirmed that it sends juveniles’ debts to collections”

    “These tickets were issued for violations of municipal ordinances, usually minor infractions”

    The practice of municipalities mirroring state laws into local ordinances is frequently used in traffic citations, to direct the fines to the municipality instead of the state.

    Not only is this problem not being addressed, the practice has spread into schools.

    This isn’t going to change, until the now common practice of duplicating state laws as municipal ordinances is prohibited. This practice will in fact get worse until that happens.


  5. - Cheswick - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:02 am:

    The first word that popped into my head while reading this: dystopian.


  6. - Sangamo Girl - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:12 am:

    Six-foot-tall eighth graders may look like adults. But the decision-making parts of their brains won’t be fully developed until well into their early twenties. It’s why you can’t rent a car until you’re 25. But we can send a 12 year old to court over a Snapple tussle? Unbelievable.


  7. - Rudy’s teeth - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:20 am:

    Back in the day…Sister Mary Alphonse ruled the classroom with a stern look and an eighteen inch wooden ruler.
    If anyone were to step out of line literally or figuratively, Sister wielded the ruler like a light sabre.
    Quite the wrist action.


  8. - Rudy’s teeth - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:20 am:

    Back in the day…Sister Mary Alphonse ruled the classroom with a stern look and an eighteen inch wooden ruler.
    If anyone were to step out of line literally or figuratively, Sister wielded the ruler like a light sabre.
    Quite the wrist action.


  9. - Moderated - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:24 am:

    I bet the schools don’t think this is the best way to deal with discipline problems either.

    Seems pretty clear they are struggling to find ways to deal with problem students that used to be handled internally. The stories my daughter tells me about teaching in a downstate middle school are shocking.


  10. - Rudy’s teeth - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:26 am:

    Sorry about the duplicate post.


  11. - Bruce( no not him) - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:31 am:

    “Ticketing students violates the intent of an Illinois law…”
    Always thought the letter of the law is more important then the intent.


  12. - TheInvisibleMan - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:31 am:

    “I bet the schools don’t think this is the best way to deal with discipline problems either.”

    I’ll take that bet.

    Who do you think brought the police into the schools to do this? They didn’t just wander in on their own.


  13. - TheInvisibleMan - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:37 am:

    == Always thought the letter of the law is more important then the intent. ==

    Depends on the method of construction used.

    Your description would be a ‘narrow construction’. A word for word interpretation.

    A ‘broad construction’ would take into account the intent of the law when it was written.

    Both are valid, depending on the situation. In this case, due to the ambiguity displayed a broad construction when analyzing the law would be more appropriate.


  14. - Fixer - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:41 am:

    “..an eighteen inch wooden ruler.” Rudy’s, ours used the full yard stick and I still steer clear of those things.

    To the post: After reading the full article, it seems like the whole ordinance system needs revamped. A lawyer should not be delegated to making judgements for juveniles in a court setting, period. Juvenile court exists for a reason. The practice of citing children for ordinance violations like this borderlines on extortion.


  15. - JoanP - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:42 am:

    = >>students have no right to legal representation

    Wait, what? =

    Correct. There is no right to counsel if someone is charged with a municipal ordinance violation for which jail time is not a possible penalty.


  16. - JS Mill - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:43 am:

    By and large, @moderated is correct. Our district does not follow this practice, but in a past role we worked with the city to enact fines for vaping/possession of vape and smoking products as effective marketing by soulless corporations and poor parental involvement led to a vape epidemic. The practice was effective but it never felt great when it was implemented.

    We are not asking municipalities to do our “dirt work” as the pearly ignorant to what schools are up against Jackie Ross stated. Her school to prison pipeline comment was also offensive.

    The state and ILGA have continued to erode school authority without increasing student or parent accountability. Many of these issues start in the home and then schools fall under intense pressure to fix the results of family disfunction .

    We are part of the solution but can’t solve this on our own when parents don’t support schools and hold their kids accountable.

    I think turning to municipalities for fines for things like fighting are bad practice. Vaping/smoking are illegal (so is battery etc) in state code but the state puts no teeth in these laws and we are left with few tools to combat these issues. There is the thought that our rural courts are tough on crime and truancy but that is not the case.


  17. - A Watcher - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:47 am:

    How much of this is driven by school resource officers being physically in the schools?


  18. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:54 am:

    “Imagine how much money they’re making off of kids,”

    This is those with power blatantly using the system (their system) to take advantage of those without.

    A hearing officer’s smug dismissal of a father’s concerns.

    Imagine being the guy who went to law school, passed the bar, worked a career as a lawyer and now you pad your wallet with $150 an hour to snark attack parents, teens and pre-teens in some faux court room.


  19. - MisterJayEm - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:58 am:

    “Her school to prison pipeline comment was also offensive.”

    Seems to me that the school/police practices described are what’s offensive.

    – MrJM


  20. - TheInvisibleMan - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:04 am:

    For anyone who wants to try to minimize this.

    Municipalities are not forced to submit these fines issued to children to collection agencies.

    They are doing that to children, of their own free will.

    Their priorities are obvious.


  21. - Big Jer - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:06 am:

    In support of JS Mill’s comment, here is a 2017 article about the number of students living with trauma but schools are expected to deal with it instead of holding parents and our society accountable.

    It is behind a Daily Herald paywall which it was not when I first read it in 2017.

    https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20170526/todays-school-social-worker-challenge-students-living-with-trauma


  22. - Fixer - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:10 am:

    “…we are left with few tools to combat these issues.”

    A quick look through my son’s handbook from his school show’s a myriad of tools that the district can use for these issues, none of which involve calling the cops and and having the municipality fine them hundreds of dollars.


  23. - Moderated - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:31 am:

    “Who do you think brought the police into the schools to do this? They didn’t just wander in on their own.”

    Correct. Because schools are not equipped to deal with the problems.

    Nor are the cops and courts.

    But the fact that it is happening speaks more to the desperation of schools to deal with a culture of non-compliance.


  24. - JS Mill - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:35 am:

    Looking at your child’s handbook you see a list (of course I have not seen your child’s handbook but I know ours) of possible consequences etc. you are correct in that. But when we run the gamut and they don’t stop the behavior (parent support at home is a key component for success) then we have to get creative.

    For the critics, I did not make my earlier statement as an endorsement of the municipal fine process, sometimes that is done without school involvement and then we have some obligation to comply. But most don’t have the slightest clue what we deal with.

    @Mr JM- with respect, in some cases yes. But schools are not sending kids to prison. Full stop. So yes, her comments are ignorant to the full story and offensive.


  25. - anon2 - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:49 am:

    What happened to after school detentions for minor misbehavior, or in-school suspension for more serious acts? If two boys are fighting, do they both get ticketed?


  26. - people caring loudly - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 12:17 pm:

    JS Mill, you know that meme of principal skinner from the simpsons? That’s what you sound like.


  27. - charles in charge - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 12:18 pm:

    ==But schools are not sending kids to prison. Full stop. So yes, her comments are ignorant to the full story and offensive.==

    Be offended all you want. The fact that schools do not literally send kids to prison doesn’t mean that a school-to-prison pipeline doesn’t exist, or that the practices described in this article aren’t part of it.


  28. - thisjustinagain - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 12:59 pm:

    Juveniles are not devoid of legal protections; even an administrative-fine only ticket invoked some level of due process. These include a right to a hearing, to counsel at their/parents expense, to present evidence in their defense. US Constitution is not limited to adults; see cases like In Re Gault and In Re Winship which established the principle. Even school districts must provide some due process to contest suspensions or expulsions.


  29. - Dotnonymous - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 1:40 pm:

    “police issued more than 1,200 tickets to students for disorderly conduct, which could include anything from using profanity to slapping someone.”

    Student use of profanity is first amendment protected speech.


  30. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 1:42 pm:

    Freedom and ‘Merica means that policing and regulating “people” (in this case, kids/students) and making sure the intent and meaning of laws are turned on their ear for other means, usually nefarious because the intent never wanted those consequences.


  31. - Demoralized - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 2:05 pm:

    I think any school district that engages in anything that results in a student being fined is despicable.


  32. - Demoralized - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 2:06 pm:

    ==in some cases yes==

    How about in all cases. You’re part of the problem if you are defending these practices.


  33. - Downstate - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 2:48 pm:

    “Student use of profanity is first amendment protected speech.”

    Sounds like a lovely learning environment. /s/


  34. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 3:16 pm:

    ==Student use of profanity is first amendment protected speech. ==

    Not so. If you are referring to last years SCOTUS ruling on the cheerleader case, it was narrow. As NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported: “But in an 8-1 vote, the court also declared that school administrators do have the power to punish student speech that occurs online or off campus if it genuinely disrupts classroom study. But the justices concluded that a few swearwords posted online off school grounds, as in this case, did not rise to the definition of disruptive.”

    https://www.npr.org/2021/06/23/1001382019/supreme-court-rules-cheerleaders-f-bombs-are-protected-by-the-first-amendment


  35. - JS Mill - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 4:07 pm:

    =You’re part of the problem if you are defending these practices.=

    yeah, no. My first response was moderated so I will take another shot at this.

    We exhausted every option when the city came up with a fine for use and possession on school grounds. It made a major impact when absolutely nothing else did.

    I think in the course of a year, the police issued 7 or 8. And we saw an immediate impact.

    Solution, not problem.

    It is easy to criticize me when you have no accountability and of course, much like the parents we deal with everyday.


  36. - Graduated College Student - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 4:10 pm:

    If I lived in one of the communities mentioned here, I’d be thinking long and hard about voting for the next millage hike or tax ordinance.


  37. - Rudy’s teeth - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 4:43 pm:

    In schools—-
    First, two students chasing one another crashed into me and knocked me off balance and into a door frame. Next, a student screams that I don’t have to listen to you (I was on hall duty). Finally, a fight with blood on the walls and floor. Four male teachers carried the offender to a waiting police car. The EMTs place the other student into an ambulance. Traumatic for all who witnessed this entente.

    Fortunately, I had enough years/credits for a full retirement. Parents would never work under the conditions that some teachers endure in their workplace.


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