The parents’ advocacy group APPLE laid out its fall agenda for Oak Park and River Forest High School, and addressing the ongoing discipline gap between black and white students topped the list.

At its first annual meeting of the school year, Sept. 6, APPLE leaders and concerned parents want to know why the school’s black students continue to represent the majority of discipline cases reported at the school.

“All I want to make sure is that the teachers are dealing with the kids equally,” said parent Emma Young, whose daughter attends OPRF and has been cited for discipline problems.

Young, like other African-American parents at the meeting, are alarmed by the numbers. Wednesday Journal reported Aug. 31 that black students comprised 48 percent of disciplinary cases at the school, though they represent just a quarter of the student body.

As for suspensions among all students?#34;male and female?#34;blacks ranked higher than whites, in some cases twice as high. The numbers are nothing new. In 2000, for instance, of the more than 400 suspensions handed out for that school year, black students received nearly half. The gap has remained roughly the same for the last decade. Some African-American parents fear race is one, if not the only factor.

“When my daughter comes to me and says, ‘Well, I did this because all the kids were doing this, but they didn’t get in trouble for it; we got in trouble for it,’ is it possible that what she did was perceived as so much more terrible because she’s a minority?”

OPRF Principal/Superintendent Susan Bridge said the school acknowledges the “alarming” problem, but disagrees that race is the major factor.

“While it is a painful fact that African-American students, and abundantly males, find themselves in greater frequency in the discipline system, it is wrong to say that the system is racist.”

Dr. Bridge also points out that the school has instituted programs geared more toward educating rather than disciplining students. The gap, however, continues to overshadow such efforts for black parents.

Last fall, the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education agreed to investigate disciplinary practices at the school. An audit of OPRF’s discipline polices began in September 2004. More than 75 student discipline cases had been reviewed by the end of the 2004 school year.

The audit is expected to conclude by late September, said Regional Superintendent for Education Bob Ingraffia, who is overseeing the review. A 4-member team, including an outside representative, is conducting the audit. APPLE (African-American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education) was among those requesting the audit.

APPLE President Wyanetta Johnson added that one of the group’s main goals for 2005-06 is getting the school and parents to work together.

“That’s been the problem, the disconnection with the African-American parents in getting involved in holding the school accountable and the children accountable,” she said. “It’s been difficult, but we need to find solutions to the problem.”


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