Illinois cops impose heavy fines on students for breaking school rules

of beating-parents-for-their-kids-lunch-money department

Putting cops in schools is a terrible idea. This tends to encourage school administrators to forgo their disciplinary duties and allow the cops to decide which violations of school policy should be treated as criminal acts.

Turns out it’s also a bad idea to have docile cops next to schools. A new report from ProPublica, drawn from hundreds of public records requests, shows schools have found a new way to punish students that not only circumvents state law, but allows administrators to offload discipline onto entities whose whole kink punishes people.

Police across Illinois ticket thousands of students each year for teenage behavior at schools once run solely by the principal’s office – for littering, for making noise, for using offensive words or gestures, for breaking a soap dish in the bathroom.

Issuing tickets to students violates the intent of an Illinois law which prohibits schools from imposing fines on students as a form of discipline. Instead of issuing fines directly, school officials refer students to police, who then ticket them for violating city ordinances, a Chicago Tribune and ProPublica investigation found.

Why are children fined? $200 for absenteeism. $175 for being caught with a vape pen. $250 for shoving someone in the cafeteria. State law supposedly prohibits schools from notifying law enforcement of absent students, but records show schools ignore it.

In addition to these fines, court costs and other administrative costs are added, adding up to $150 to the total. Many of those who have been fined have to skip school to attend meetings with prosecutors or other law enforcement officials. And when families don’t pay the falsified totals, the government sends that to collection agencies, allowing this disciplinary offshoring to hurt the parents’ credit score.

Unsurprisingly, no one is tracking schoolboy ticketing — not in Illinois or anywhere else in the country. ProPublica (in conjunction with the Chicago Tribune) has done the work that the government (as a whole) is not interested in doing. Using more than 500 public records requests, ProPublica has compiled a searchable database fines levied by law enforcement on behalf of schools, providing the first ray of sunshine this unseemly practice has seen.

The schools and the cops must be happy with this arrangement because it happens thousands of times a year.

In total, the survey documented more than 11,800 tickets issued over the past three school years, even though the COVID-19 pandemic kept students out of school for much of that time and even though records show that no student has received a ticket in the state’s largest district, Chicago Public Schools.

Analysis of 199 districts, which together encompass more than 86% of the state’s high school students, found that ticketing took place in at least 141. In some K-12 districts, tickets were issued to children as young as 8 years old.

The whole report is worth reading. It digs deep into the numbers and explains the origin of both the practice of student ticketing as well as the development of the law intended to end the practice which many schools have found ways around.

It also includes several small details that highlight just how internally corrupt and selfish this whole mess is. First, the police and prosecutors benefit directly from the student ticket. Almost all the money collected goes directly to these entities. None of this comes back to the schools, which means that administrators who exploit loopholes in the law to fine students are either too lazy to exercise their own discipline or simply harbor a desire to inflict the most misery. possible to students who misbehave.

Even the figureheads overseeing these quasi-judicial proceedings seem to deeply hate the children and parents they deal with. ProPublica attended several “hearings” handled by hearing officer Harry H. Semrow Jr., who seemed to enjoy criticizing parents for speaking up and ensuring that a caseload full of students with citations would eat up most of their school day.

“I don’t care,” Semrow said. “I get paid on time”

Records show he is paid $150 an hour.

And the proceedings he oversees in McHenry, Illinois suddenly became much less transparent once reporters attended the hearings.

Even though city code requires it, McHenry also no longer tapes the proceedings, having abruptly stopped in December shortly after the start of the reporters’ presence. McHenry Deputy Police Chief Thomas Walsh said state law did not require recording, and he and the police chief decided it “created unnecessary recording.”

Well, of course, useless for him and other beneficiaries of this system. But the moment is more than suspicious, he is doomed.

The publication of this investigation has at least prompted the Illinois Superintendent of Education to ask schools in the state to please stop exploiting the loophole in the law to fine children for violating policies. school.

In a strongly worded plea sent to officials across the state, Carmen Ayala, Illinois State Superintendent of Education, said the costly fines associated with tickets can be extremely detrimental to families and there is no evidence that they improve student behavior. students. School officials who refer students to police for the ticket have ‘abdicated responsibility for student discipline to local law enforcement,’ she wrote on Thursday, the same day of the inquest. “The price children pay” has been published.

It’s a good request, but the flaw still exists. And if it exists, it will be exploited, no matter how good the advocacy. But it’s a start. And state lawmakers now know what needs to be fixed. Whether or not they are able to sustain the desire to do so after this news cycle ends remains to be seen.

Filed Under: fines, harry semrow, illinois, mchenry, police in schools, school resource officer, sro

Martha K. Merrill