Chicago Tribune/Pro Publica Report on Police Ticketing Students Draws Fire from ISBE

By Benjamin Cox on May 3, 2022 at 9:04am

Illinois’ top education official is urging school districts to stop working with police to ticket students for misbehavior.

On the heels of a report published jointly by Pro Publica and the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said the costly fines associated with the tickets can be immensely harmful to families, and there’s no evidence they improve students’ behavior at school.

Ayala says that superintendents who refer students to police for ticketing have “abdicated their responsibility for student discipline to local law enforcement.” Ayala says the State Board of Education intends to survey school districts to learn more about their disciplinary practices and look at issues she says that are non-compliant with state law.

Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Office says it’s something that his office immediately jumped on to begin talks with legislators to close loopholes and address the issue in state law.

The report showed that local police are issuing thousands of tickets a year to students for violations of municipal laws, often for misconduct as minor as littering or vaping. Each ticket can come with hundreds of dollars in fines or fees, forcing many families into payment plans and some districts send debt from school tickets to collection agencies.

An Illinois law passed in 2015 prohibits schools from using fines to discipline students. Instead, the investigation found, schools have been referring students to police, who then write costly tickets — taking advantage of what Ayala referred to as a “loophole” in the law. Students received more than 11,800 tickets for school misbehavior in the last three school years, reporters found.

Locally, the report noted that Jacksonville School District 117 issued 19 tickets to students during the past three school years. The report could not confirm if those debts were sent to collection agencies. The report says that the infractions include but are not limited to city ordinance violations for fighting, truancy, and disorderly conduct. A 2019 Illinois law prohibits police from ticketing juveniles for truancy.

No other small schools in the area received FOIA requests from reporters.

By comparison, Springfield School District #186 issued 18 tickets to students during the time frame. At least 1 municipality did send debts from those tickets to a collection agency. Springfield #186 did not issue any tickets for truancy.

Jersey Community Unit District #100 issued 15 tickets. It was undetermined if the fines assessed from those tickets were sent to collection agencies, and Jersey CUSD #100 didn’t issue any tickets to students for truancy.

The report examined 199 school districts from across the state that included more than 500 Freedom of Information Act requests to districts and police departments.