Selective for Whom?

Notes from the 10/02/2019 issue

Selective For Whom?

Desegregation efforts in Chicago Public Schools have a history of being funnelled through selective enrollment schools, but the system has expected—and abundant—shortcomings. Ten years ago, a federal judge lifted an order that compelled Chicago Public Schools to integrate its test-in schools by race, suggesting instead that it use socioeconomic status as a proxy for race to continue its “commitment to diversity.” WBEZ reports that this effort failed: the new enrollment guidelines doubled the number of CPS test-in schools that are almost entirely segregated, from three to six. Additionally, the number of white students at the city’s top test-in schools has increased, while the proportion of Black students has dropped citywide. The original mission of test-in schools was to create racial integration in parts of the city where segregation had most stubbornly persisted, but socioeconomic metrics have failed to ensure racial diversity. The vast majority of white students who qualify for selective enrollment schools attend Chicago’s top five performers: Payton, Whitney Young, Northside, Jones, and Lane. White students make up thirty-five percent of the total population at these schools overall, but at the remaining six selective enrollment schools—all of which are majority Black or Hispanic—they make up less than one percent. Many white families’ racist perceptions of the South Side make them more hesitant to send their students to predominantly Black or Hispanic schools, even those that are selective enrollment.

Can’t We Agree That Children Shouldn’t Be Put in Jail?

Last year, Cook County became the first county in Illinois to ban the detention of children younger than thirteen. But not long after, Cook County Judge Michael Toomin, the presiding judge of the court’s juvenile justice division, ruled that the county board’s ordinance restricted judges’ discretion in violation of state law. He ordered two twelve-year-old boys held in juvenile detention anyway.

Last week, an Illinois Appellate Court panel heard an appeal in the case. Public defenders pointed out the serious harm that the state does when it incarcerates elementary- and middle-school-age children. Detention of young people has been shown to have negative impacts on their mental and physical health, future financial prospects, and their future involvement with the criminal legal system. “To put a youth, especially under the age of thirteen, into the juvenile detention center, to take them away from their families, to lock them up even for one day can have such an adverse effect on the minor,” WBEZ quoted the chief of the Cook County public defender’s juvenile justice division, Brandy Brixy, saying after the hearing.

Prosecutors, though, supported Toomin’s initial ruling, arguing that Cook County’s ban on jailing children wasn’t allowed by state law and saying judges had been given no alternatives for handling children who are “out of control.” One judge on the appellate panel seemed to follow this logic, asking how the county could be “protecting” children by not jailing them if a court had found detention was needed.

WBEZ’s coverage emphasized Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s implicit oversight of prosecutors’ arguments, which run counter to the spirit of reforms she has instituted such as raising the threshold for prosecution of retail theft; a spokesperson for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office told WBEZ the office is “not advocating” for jailing children under thirteen. But the prosecutors’ arguments show how hard it is to turn away from incarceration as a default solution, even in an office that has reduced the number of people sentenced to prison or jail by almost twenty percent in the past year (while violent crime also dropped)—and we can expect better.

The arguments of some of the judges are similarly disappointing. We don’t pretend to know all the legal intricacies. Still, technically, this case is about what power judges do and don’t have in Illinois. The best interpretation may be that Cook County passed a law it didn’t have the power to pass. But in what kind of system is it a priority for judges to be able to lock up 10-year-olds—knowing that it will harm both them and society? 

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