Illinois police ticket thousands of students a year for misbehaving in schools, turning adolescent problems once handled in the principal's office into court appearances and costly fines, ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune report. The ad hoc system to handle offenses such as littering, possessing tobacco or vaping materials, minor vandalism, or disruptive behavior acts as an end run around a state 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. “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."
Dozens of school districts also routinely disregard another state law that prohibits schools from notifying police when students are truant. 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. No government agency tracks student ticketing, but the news organizations used hundreds of freedom of information requests to document more than 11,800 tickets issued during the last three school years, even though the pandemic kept students out of school for much of that time. Tribune and ProPublica reporters attended more than 50 hearing dates, observing hundreds of cases around the state. Some communities hold as many as three sessions a month, with students making up the vast majority of cases. The revenue from the student tickets goes to the municipalities, not the schools, and essentially funds the ticketing system, including the employees who manage the hearings, lawyers who prosecute the cases and hearing officers who rule on them.