Chicago Public Schools: The Lack of a Restorative Justice System Causes Kaos

Chicago Public Schools: The Lack of a Restorative Justice System Causes Kaos


Several weeks ago I wrote about the Chicago Public Schools visiting the Chatham community about Richard Milburn Alternative High School http://www.chicagonow.com/concerned-citizens-of-chatham/2011/10/capcc-to-cps-richard-milburn-alternative-high-school-must-go/. The high school is a "safe school" defined by Chicago Public Schools. The alternative high school moved from one of the Chicago Archdioces catholic schools at Holy Angels Catholic Church in the Bronzeville community under "mysterious" circumstances. Many of the catholic schools on the southside have closed or are in the process of being closed. But in Chatham several catholic schools are still operating. The school moved into one of closed Chicago Archdiocese catholic schools. The school is housed inside of St Clotilde Catholic School. The school building became vacant after a private school renting the facility moved. When neighbors started seeing activity of someone moving in they inquired with the church and the Chicago Archdioces. It wasn't until September 6th, 2011 that the community found out what they suspected. The community was informed that Chicago Public Schools was opening up an alternative high school that was housing at risk students who had been expelled from Chicago Public Schools, The students are also ineligible to attend charter schools and alternative schools. The only alternative is a private school or possibly catholic schools. Several other Alternative High School operators referred to by the Chicago Archdioces and Chicago Public Schools had approached the community about the St. Clotilde location and were told thanks but not interested. Call to Roderick Sawyer, Alderman of the 6th ward resulted in Alderman Sawyer going on local TV discussing his outrage at Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Archdioceses and St. Clotilde on their lack of respect towards the community and his office for no notification of this move.

After six weeks into the school year the Chicago Public Schools sent out Jennifer Vidis, Deputy Director of Altenative Education. Ms. Vidis spoke at the Chatham Avalon Park Community Council (CAPCC) and Greater Chatham Alliance (GCA) and met angry crowds at both meetings who did not want to hear her compromise which was to create a community advisory council. Questions why local charter school and alternative high schools operators were not selected. Why several charter schools who have available space werenot considered. The community has requested information from Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Archdioces and St. Clotilde and have not received responses at this time.

The story has caught the eye of the University of Chicago who is an operator of Charter Schools in the city of Chicago. The University of Chicago is becoming a leader of operating charter schools. The Chicago Weekly a publication associated with New City recently wrote a story on Richard Milburn. Some of the explanations given to the reporter contradict the explanations given to the community. http://chicagoweekly.net/2011/11/23/no-alternative/

In the early morning, things are pretty quiet around St. Clotilde Church in Chatham. A few cars may be heard turning west off Calumet onto 84th Street, but most of the noise comes from the wind hitting the trees that line the area’s sidewalks, shading its one- and two-story brick houses and 80-year-old stone church. It’s an area that feels more like a suburb than a part of the city, and its residents—mostly families and seniors—generally seem to like it that way, quiet and uneventful. It came as a surprise, then, when on the morning of September 6 a school bus stopped in front of St. Clotilde, and for the first time, opened its doors and let out a handful of teenage students. As far as the community was concerned, the school housed by St. Clotilde had been closed for years.

As longtime Chatham resident and community activist Worlee Glover tells it, “Many of the residents had been seeing things move in throughout the summer, and when they were asking questions no one would answer. They approached the church, the church told them they didn’t know, nothing was going on, and then they went to call the Archdiocese and were really told it wasn’t none of their business.” After the school bus pulled up for the first day of class, more calls were made. Eventually it came out that the church’s second and third stories had become the new home of Richard Milburn High School and its 37 high school and ten junior high students.

In the official language of Chicago Public Schools, Richard Milburn is an “alternative safe school,” serving students who have received long-term suspensions or, pending adjudication, may receive a long-term suspension. According to CPS spokesperson Frank Shuftan, “In the absence of a safe-school option, these students would be out of school.” Along with Banner North in Lincoln Park and Vivian Summers in Roseland, Milburn is designed to help suspended students continue their education, receive support services, and ultimately graduate, be it from their safe school or local school.

Though safe schools are publically funded, each is operated by a contracted company. At Milburn, for example, administrators like school director Calista Winford are employees of Richard M. Milburn High Schools Inc., a private, Virginia-based company that has been contracted by CPS since 1998. The city has similar contracts in place at Banner North, where the school is operated by Banner Educational Group, and at Vivian Summers, operated by Human Resource Development Institute, Inc. According to Shuftan, the contractors “are better positioned to provide the flexible scheduling, wrap-around services, and transition supports needed for these students in highly personalized, very small school settings.”

So who is wrong? Is it Chicago Public Schools for their lack of a logical restorative justice system? Is it Chicago Archdioces for determining what a community want and need without consultation? So where does this school go from here?

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