School discipline can impact students beyond the classroom, especially when students face disciplinary action for alleged behavior that may be considered criminal or involve law enforcement.
A recent investigation by Cicero Independiente, Injustice Watch, and Type Investigations found that more than 100 high school students in the Chicago suburbs of Cicero and Berwyn have signed a form called a gang contract, often for murky or seemingly subjective reasons. We also found evidence that school officials share information from the contracts with cops.
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Our investigation illustrates the risk youth face of being criminalized after they get in trouble at school — and why experts say it’s important for parents and students to know their rights. Here’s some advice from Julian Johnson, a Chicago civil rights attorney, about how students can navigate these intimidating situations. Click here to download a PDF version.
- Assert your right to remain silent. Remember: anything you say can be used against you. Do not speak to a school official or law enforcement official without a parent, guardian, or lawyer.
- When a parent or guardian arrives at the school to meet with school administrators, encourage them to ask questions. If administrators request that a document be signed, parents and guardians should ask concrete questions: What is the document’s purpose? Who can access it? Where will it be stored? How will it be enforced?
- If a parent or guardian feels uneasy with the process or unsure how a school discipline decision may affect your future, have them request a lawyer be present before going further. Even if the parent or guardian does not have access to a lawyer, it signals to the school administrator and any law enforcement present that the conversation must stop before moving forward, allowing time for a parent or guardian to make an informed decision.
- Do not sign any forms you do not understand or do not want to sign. Instead, have a parent or guardian review any documents or statements with a lawyer and assess whether the form may be used against you in any future criminal interactions or proceedings.
- Request alternative disciplinary measures such as restorative justice or healing circles, which allow for a meeting and conversation between the impacted students to speak their truth.
This article was produced in partnership with Report for America. Illustrations by Veronica Martínez. Leer en español.