Charter school's disciplinary fines protested

February 13, 2012 4:52:30 PM PST
Hundreds of people protested at Chicago Public School headquarters Monday against the Noble Street Charter Network's use of fines to discipline students that they say is not stopping the bad behavior and digs deep into the parents' pockets.

Noble was recently touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as having what he called "secret sauce" in creating quality education in Chicago. Now other charter schools are looking to make similar changes, changes that some former students and parents say are too strict and too costly.

"The way to make schools safe is not to force fine that makes our parents choose between sending us to school and putting food on our plates," said Timothy Anderson of Youth in Chicago Education.

They feel disciplinary codes in the noble network of charter schools in Chicago are too tough and expensive. Parents and educational organizations agree.

"We wonder how they run a 19-school network if they have to balance the budget on the backs of low income families like that," said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education.

The group called Voices of Youth in Chicago Education claim Noble Charter Schools collects thousands of dollars each year in disciplinary fines from students and families, many of them from low-income homes. With other charter schools working to adopt the same policy the group wants to put an end to these strict rules.

"Ultimately if a student can't pay they will be held back and forced to repeat the entire school year regardless of their academic status," Woestehoff said.

Noble's handbook says that if a student breaks their rules, which includes attendance, dress code, and behavior, more than four times, they get detention and charged a $5 fee to cover the cost of the teacher who monitors detention.

The more detentions, the steeper the fine. In extreme cases, the students can get suspended.

They believe the culture inside the school, like how kids dress, ensures safety.

Inside a Noble School, parents and school officials will tell you the tough rules and the costs of breaking those rules are they only thing giving these kids hope.

"My child is one of the students that has struggled with the discipline all three years," said Kelly Castleberry, mother of a Muchin College Prep student. "She's reached a high number of detentions, but still I spend that money, the 140 bucks because it's worth every penny."

"We're doing an incredible job preparing these scholars for life after Muchin," said dean of discipline Jonas Cleaves. "They will eventually be the decision-makers of our world and we want to make sure they are prepared for it."

Still this group wants changes, no harsh discipline and a less costly punishment so their kids have a chance at staying in school.

Noble stands by their policy, saying 90 percent of their graduates go to college.

Parents united for responsible education say they are now seeking legal action to try and put an end to the extreme rules.