Educate, Don't Incarcerate

by Janice Belzowski, Program Officer, Democracy Program

Schools should inspire learning, and offer a supportive and positive environment in which to learn. When students are punished for minor offenses by suspensions and expulsions, that out-of-school time creates more problems than it solves. Often, there are more effective interventions that address the root causes of behavioral issues. Students also have a greater chance of educational success the more time they are in school.

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a youth-led, citywide collaborative dedicated to education justice and equity. VOYCE, a program of Communities United and a grantee of the Democracy Program, convened The Campaign for Common Sense Discipline that led the effort to pass SB 100 in 2015.

SB 100 limits the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions at public schools (K – 12) in response to minor incidents. It ensures the most severe disciplinary consequences are used not as punishment, but only in order to preserve a safe and productive learning environment. The bill will especially affect students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, and English Language Learner students who are disproportionally affected by suspensions and expulsions.

In September 2015, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research released a report that focused on the alarming number of suspensions in Chicago Public Schools. It highlighted that African American students are nearly three times more likely to be suspended than Latino students, and more than four times more likely to be suspended than white or Asian students. In addition, boys are much more likely to be suspended than girls.

In the future, students will receive the appropriate intervention and support they need while remaining in school. This legislation will help our most vulnerable students stay in school, and have the same opportunity as their peers to learn and develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become informed, engaged members of society.

VOYCE is working with groups across the state to ensure strong implementation of the new law. For more information, please contact Maria Degillo at

The First Amendment and a Tale of Two Protests

by Cassandra Solis, Digital Communications Intern

This past May, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) took to the streets to protest Governor Rauner’s delay in passing a budget for the 2016-2017 school year affecting the financial resources needed for Chicago Public schools (CPS) to start on time. Public officials may not be too happy about the demonstrations, but they have preserved the CTU’s right to protest; allowing them to assemble and organize a peaceful agenda.

Similarly, across the U.S./Mexico border – in the southernmost state of Oaxaca, Mexico— teachers took to the streets to protest the government’s education reforms. Sadly, the Oaxaca teachers experienced a very different outcome.

Here’s the breakdown…

In 2013, Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, proposed an education reform plan that included a provision that would have teacher evaluations dictate compensation and subsequently, terminate teachers who would not meet federal standards. In May of 2013, the CTNE issued a statement making the suggestion that testing occur with a ‘bottom-up’ approach and have the community and school administration work together to craft teacher evaluations.

Creative Commons Fair Contract Now by Brad Perkins is licensed under CC 2.0

This June, Mexico’s federal government opened fire on CTNE teachers and union activists who were protesting the education reforms. The Mexican government attacked protesting teachers anywhere from publicly shaming them in the streets through nonconsensual head shavings in the public plazas to imprisoning union leaders among other human rights violations. The results of this are heinous; nine killed and brutally murdered, twenty imprisoned, and many injured.

Creative Commons Yo Soy 132 by MaloMalverde is licensed under CC 2.0

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel may not necessarily support the CTU strike, however, his opposition is not faced with immediate life threatening consequences like that of Mayor Adolfo Gomez Hernandez, Mayor of Oaxaca, who has openly stated his support of the teachers’ demonstrations. This, he believes prompted the delivery of a homemade bomb to his office. Karen Lewis can champion the CTU views and clearly use her First Amendment right to freedom of speech and assembly. Lewis does not have to fear imprisonment for disagreeing with the state and protesting like Ruben Nunez, who heads CTNE.

The disjuncture between the federal, state, and local government in Oaxaca is astonishing, but illustrates why our Founding Father created the Bill of Rights. Where would we be without it? One just has to look at Oaxaca, Mexico and the protest that happened there.