It’s illegal for schools in Illinois to use fines to discipline students. Many school districts are letting the police do it for them

I think it’s true that the overall health of a society can be judged on how that society treats animals, kids, the sick and the elderly. And while I think that the numbers show, overall, that red states do much worse on these measures than do more progressive states, it’s also shocking how many blue states have policies that any Trumper could have dreamt up and adopted wholeheartedly.

Take this story from ProPublica out of Illinois, a state that outlaws school districts from using monetary fines as a form of student discipline. No problem, some school districts said. We’ll just bring in the cops and prosecutors to do our dirty work for us:

A boy named Kameron, who had shoved his friend over a Lipton peach iced tea in the school cafeteria, had been cited for violating East Peoria’s municipal code forbidding “assault, battery, and affray.” He didn’t know what that phrase meant; he was 12 years old.

“He was wrong for what he did, but this is a bit extreme for the first time being in trouble. He isn’t even a teenager yet,” Shannon Poole said as her son signed a plea agreement that came with $250 in fines and fees. They spent three hours at the courthouse as Kameron missed math, social studies and science.

The nearly 30 students summoned to the Tazewell County Courthouse that January morning were not facing criminal charges; they’d received tickets for violating a municipal ordinance while at school. Each was presented with a choice: agree to pay a fine or challenge the ticket at a later hearing. Failing to pay, they were told, could bring adult consequences, from losing their driving privileges to harming their future credit scores.

Across Illinois, police are ticketing thousands of students a year for in-school adolescent behavior once handled only by the principal’s office — for littering, for making loud noises, for using offensive words or gestures, for breaking a soap dish in the bathroom.

Shocking, but also shockingly common. And the students and parents are afforded little in the way of rights when discipline is handed out this way.

“Basically schools are using this as a way to have municipalities do their dirty work,” said Jackie Ross, an attorney at Loyola University Chicago’s ChildLaw Clinic who specializes in school discipline. “It’s the next iteration of the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools might be patting themselves on the back and saying it’s just the school-to-municipality pipeline, but it’s the same philosophy.”

At the assembly-line hearings where many of these cases are handled, students have no right to legal representation and little chance to defend themselves against charges that can have long-term consequences. Ticket fines can be hundreds of dollars, presenting an impossible burden for some families, and administrative or court fees of up to $150 are often tacked on.

Unpaid fines are sometimes sent to collections or deducted from parents’ tax refunds. And, unlike records from juvenile court, these cases can’t be expunged under state law

The complainant on the court papers is often the principal of the school.

What are these people doing in the educational field? How do they not know this is morally and pedagogically wrong? And how is this happening in Illinois?

Jennifer Fee, left, and her 17-year-old, Blake, talk to prosecutor Pat McGrath at the Tazewell County Courthouse in March. Blake had gotten a ticket for having a tobacco vaping device at school. (Photo: ProPublica)

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