District 211, Palatine to comply with civil rights probe on treatment of minority students

Officials from Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and the village of Palatine say they will comply with the Illinois attorney general's request for information on student discipline amid a civil rights investigation into disparate treatment of minority students.

In a May 18 letter to District 211, Attorney General Kwame Raoul requests data and procedures from the past four school years by the end of June.

The letter cites an April 28 article by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica titled, "The Price Kids Pay: Schools and Police Punish Students With Costly Tickets for Minor Misbehavior."

"Based on recently-published reporting about the impact of tickets and fines issued by local police departments, including the Palatine Police Department, to District 211 students accused of minor school-related infractions such as truancy or disorderly conduct, the OAG is exercising its authority to seek information as to whether these practices violate civil rights laws," Raoul wrote.

The letter requests specific categories of records and information broken down by race, gender, disability, school, the police department issuing the ticket, the reason for it, and the total fine. The attorney general also asks for the number of tickets issued, referrals and calls to law enforcement, out-of-school suspensions, transfers to alternative schools and expulsions.

Amy Meek, chief of the attorney general's civil rights bureau, said the data cited in the April news article shows District 211 stands out for the number of tickets issued and the disparate impact on students of different races.

She emphasized that the data alone isn't proof of civil rights violations, but it provides a basis for further investigation.

"We haven't made any determinations yet," Meek said Thursday. "They are one of the larger districts in the state. ... At this point, it's too early for us to draw any conclusions."

District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small and other administrators spoke Thursday with the Daily Herald about the many intervention programs the district has that precede disciplinary measures. They cited successful efforts to curb truancy and vaping, home visits by district staff, and one struggling student who formed a close bond with a school resource officer.

"I don't think these stories came out (in the media)," Small said.

"We are always evaluating our procedures," she added.

Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen acknowledged receiving a similar request for information from the attorney general's office.

"We will fully comply by the June 30 deadline that they gave us," Ottesen said.

District 211 schools are served by the Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg police departments as well as Palatine. The district educates about 12,000 students at Conant, Fremd, Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Schaumburg high schools, as well as two alternative schools.

Meek said the time frame of the District 211 investigation is difficult to estimate so early in the process, but could take as long as a year before conclusions are reached.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Steve Zalusky contributed to this report.

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