Chicago Public School officials acknowledge problems of under-reporting or misreporting of school-level suspensions. According to data from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), for instance, 74 schools reported zero suspensions in 2003—but some principals at those schools admitted to Catalyst Chicago that those reports were inaccurate.
Officials at the state board say they do not review school-level data for accuracy, relying on district superintendents to verify the information before it is submitted to the state.
According to CPS spokesperson Michael Vaughn, the district contacts schools when their numbers appear questionable, such as when Chicago Vocational High, with an enrollment of 2,067 in 2003, reported no suspensions. However, schools may give corrections to the district after the district has sent its end-of-year information to the state, in which case CPS has the updated numbers, but ISBE does not. (Last July, CPS denied Catalyst Chicago’s Freedom of Information Act request for suspension data.)
The 2003 data reported to ISBE show a wide range of suspension rates by school, from zero to over 50 percent of the student body suspended one or more times. Near North Special Education Center had the highest suspension rate in the city, with 57 percent of its 94 students suspended at least once. (A 2001 report by the federal General Accounting Office notes that nationally, special education students are more likely to be suspended than their peers in regular education.) Tilden High in New City had the second highest rate, at 41 percent.
Although South and West side parents pushing for better disciplinary practices have won support from CPS to hold community forums, they still have not received data on suspensions by school. “We still don’t have anything,” says Kelly Magnuson, citywide organizer for Community Organizing and Family Issues, which is supporting the grass-roots initiative.