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Chicago Schools Make Bank, Draw Ire By Fining Students for Untied Shoelaces

Noble Street Charter School

The schools racked up $190,000 last year for trangressions like gum chewing

If you’ve ever had, say, a swear jar in your home in which you have to make a monetary deposit every time you utter a curse word, then you know how fast the coins can add up.

A network of 10 charter schools in Chicago knows this, too, because it collected nearly $190,000 last year in discipline “fees” from students subjected to detention and other disciplinary actions. According to Yahoo News (via the Associated Press), administrators force students to pay a literal price for breaking even the smallest rules.

While it means the students are dressed neatly and refrain dawdling and using cellphones on school grounds, it also means plenty of parents, advocacy groups and education experts are up in arms.

The Noble Network of Charter Schools makes students pay $5 for things like chewing gum and having untied shoelaces. School officials say the money collected offsets the cost of the detention program and helps “keep small problems from becoming big ones.” Students who receive 12 detentions in a school year must attend — and pay $140 for — a summer behavior class.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls the network a “model for the city.”

On the flip side, however, is the fact that it is mostly low-income students who are being forced to pony up, and kids administrators don’t want at the school in the first place are being forced out.

“We think this just goes over the line … fining someone for having their shoelaces untied (or) a button unbuttoned goes to harassment, not discipline,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the Chicago advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education.

The superintendent said the policy teaches kids to follow rules, and that for the majority of the students, who are poor, minority students, it pays off, pointing to the fact that 90 percent of their graduates attend college.

By “sweating the small stuff … we don’t have issues with the big stuff,” the superintendent said.

For parents who have had to transfer their kids because they couldn’t afford the fines, however, the fines are the big stuff. They argue their big kids are being treated like toddlers, and “kids internalize that.” Educational experts also say is “disproportionately hurts poor families” and the fines have no bearing on academic performance.

Do you think these schools are onto something, or are the petty fines a distraction from a larger issue(s)?

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