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$5 Fine for Chewing Gum at School Upsets Parents

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 21, 2012 5:04 AM

Noble Street Charter Network, a group of charter schools in Chicago, is under fire for a strict disciplinary code that includes fines. Students who receive four demerits in two weeks are given detention. Parents must pay the school $5. Twelve detentions require a behavior modification class worth $140.

A group of parents organized as Parents United for Responsible Education is fighting back. They've obtained documents showing that parents have paid the network $387,000 in fines in just three years.

Aside from the belief that such fines hurt low income families, parents are outraged at the type of behavior that warrants a demerit. Students are disciplined for poor posture, eating chips and not making eye contact with teachers, reports the Chicago-Sun Times. One parent told WBEZ that her son was punished for having a button undone.

In general, these are minor issues that don't disrupt instruction.

Noble Street Charter schools are quasi-public entities -- they receive some funds from the federal government, and are thus subject to many of the same rules as traditional public schools. Courts have generally given public schools significant leeway in the types of behavior prohibited on campus. Schools can take reasonable actions to ensure a safe, productive learning environment.

Whether the demerits -- and the fines -- are reasonable is up for debate. Noble Street Charter CEO Michael Milkie told the Sun-Times that school rules promote "basic, common-sense citizenship things" that all teenagers should know. He also disputes the use of the word "fine." The payments are fees used to ensure that "those who generate the cost [of detention] are the ones who end up paying."

But are the students really generating the costs, or is it an overzealous disciplinary policy? It may take a lawsuit against Noble Street Charter Network to really find out.

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