Where kids get suspended for not sitting up straight

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with preschool students prior to participating in a discussion on the importance of universal access to preschool and the need to reduce Attorney General Eric Holder talks with preschool students at Ormond Wilson Elementary in Washington before a discussion on the need to reduce “unnecessary and unfair school discipline practices”  in March.       (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Some school disciplines are lenient. Some are strict. And then there’s the Noble Charter School network in Chicago.

At the 14 Noble campuses, kids get suspended for infractions such as not sitting up straight in class, being a minute late and not looking at the teacher when instructed. And until last week, students ordered into detention had to pay $5 every time.

An April 7 Chicago Tribune story on the punitive discipline code at the Noble network allegedly led the Noble management to drop the detention fee, which apparently drove some families out of the school because they couldn’t afford to keep paying for detentions. The Tribune noted in this story that Noble superintendent Michael Milkie said the fee had “attracted attention” and had become ” a distraction.”

It is interesting to note that Milkie and his subordinates didn’t think they should drop the fee in January, when U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced new federal guidelines aimed at urging schools to stop harsh punishments for minor infractions, which disproportionately affect minorities. Holder said at the time:

“Too often, so-called zero-tolerance policies, however well intentioned they might be, make students feel unwelcome in their own schools; they disrupt the learning process. And they can have significant and lasting negative effects on the long-term well-being of our young people, increasing their likelihood of future contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

The fee was dropped after it became a “distraction” in the Chicago Tribune.

Tough discipline codes are not unique to charter schools, but the percentages of students who get suspended and/or expelled at some charters is staggering. For example, Roxbury Preparatory School in Boston suspended 56 percent of its students for one day or more in the past school year. In Chicago, charter schools expelled 12 times as many students as did traditional public schools the past school year, school district data showed.

The Noble network’s Web site says:

Because success is the only option for our students, we operate on culture of high expectations – for academics, for behavior, and for our students’ futures. We know that college is crucial for future success, so everything we do is to prepare our students for that next step. Academic rigor is the norm and discipline and accountability are a part of daily life for students. We believe that by ‘sweating the small stuff’ and pushing our students to reach their full potential, we are building the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed to be successful in college and in life.

There apparently isn’t anything at Noble that isn’t small enough to be included in the discipline code.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · April 13, 2014