A recent investigation by The Chicago Tribune and ProPublica uncovered a disheartening reality in Illinois' education system: schools are working with police to issue tickets for misbehavior and are burdening families with debt, and putting youth in the criminal system in the process.
Illinois state law bans schools from fining students, so they have the police do it for them in the form of tickets for misbehavior and municipal ordinance violations. And of course, Black students are getting more tickets than any other group in the state.
Tickets can be issued for anything from littering, fights, cussing, breaking a soap dish in the bathroom, vaping, missing school (which violates another state law) –– behavior, and situations that used to be handled in a principal's office. Now, students and families have to go to court.
In many instances, students and families are forced to choose between paying fines or disputing the tickets at a later hearing. Young people are told if they don't pay the fines, they could face adult consequences like losing driving privileges and even harming future credit scores.
A Disproportionate Impact
Despite the wide range of racial and ethnic diversity of Chicago's Bloom Trail High School student body, Black students are receiving a higher number of police tickets than any other group.
Police, with the help of Bloom Trail officials, have issued 178 tickets for misbehavior during the 2018-2019 school year according to the report. Of those, six went to Latino students, five went to white students, and 167 went to Black students –– that's 94% of all the tickets.
The student body at Bloom Trail is made up of 1,100 teens, 60% identify as Black, 27% as Latino, and 12% as white. But, the disproportionate rate of tickets for misbehavior is not isolated to this one high school, the report found. Across Illinois, Black students are twice as likely to be ticketed by police than white students.
The publications reviewed data from 4,000 tickets across 68 districts that agreed to provide information. In the 42 districts that regularly ticketed students for misbehavior, the report found that on average, Black students made up 9% of their student body but received 20% of the tickets.
The report found that 11,800 tickets were issued in Illinois in the last three school years –– including the years during Covid-19 shutdowns.
State school officials have examined suspension and expulsion rates but haven't looked at ticketing and the racial disparities. The US Department of Education hasn't reviewed the issue either, the outlets reported.
Unpaid fines are sent to collections or sometimes deducted from parents' tax refunds. Additionally, state law prevents the cases from these tickets from being expunged from records.
State Officials React to the Findings
Hours after the release of the report, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala released a statement urging school administrations to stop working with the police to issue tickets.
Ayala said that the fines hurt families and students and have not shown to improve student behavior in the long run.
Read the full report.