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Illinois School District Accused of Discriminatory Student Ticketing

Two national civil rights groups accused the third-largest school district in Illinois on Tuesday of depending on police to handle school discipline, unlawfully targeting Black students with tickets, arrests, and other disciplinary actions, ProPublica reports. In a 25-page complaint against Rockford Public Schools, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the National Center for Youth Law and the MacArthur Justice Center said that Rockford police officers have been “addressing minor behaviors that should be handled as an educational matter by parents, teachers, and school leaders — and not as a law enforcement matter by police officers.” The complaint adds: “Black students bear the brunt of this harm.” The groups, which shared a copy of the complaint with ProPublica, asked the Education Department to find that the district violated federal law prohibiting discrimination and to order it to change its discipline practices and reliance on police.

Using data obtained from the Rockford district and the Rockford Police Department, the groups argue that the district’s partnership with police funnels Black students, but not their white peers, into the justice system, even for the same infractions at school. The groups began to investigate school-based ticketing in Rockford after a 2022 investigation by ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune into the practice in Illinois that included a database of thousands of student tickets issued across the state, including in Rockford. “The Price Kids Pay” investigation found that even though Illinois law bans school officials from fining students directly, districts skirt the law by cooperating with police. It also found that Black students were twice as likely to be ticketed at school than their white peers. The municipal tickets, for violating ordinances including those against vaping, truancy and disorderly conduct, can include fines of as much as $750 in Rockford and are difficult to fight. They’ve left some families with debt and other serious financial consequences. Unlike in juvenile court, students in local ticket hearings cannot get a public defender. The district has denied that students’ race plays a role in discipline there.


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