CPS Taking New Look at Punishments for Marijuana, Substance Abuse

Chicago Public Schools is looking to rewrite portions of its student bylaws on marijuana and other controlled substances.

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The rule change would limit punishments schools can dole out to students who are caught using or possessing drugs at school to make sure all substance abuse infractions are treated the same.

Days after the 2018-19 school year came to a close, the newly appointed Chicago Board of Education will take up a measure that would revise several parts of its Student Code of Conduct – a rulebook CPS students and parents must read and sign each year.

That includes a change from outright punishment to more “therapeutic responses” to drug use at school.

“The use or possession of drugs, controlled substances, or any substance used for the purpose of intoxication, previously captured in Section 5-17, has been moved to Section 4-14,” the board agenda states, “to reflect the city’s path toward the decriminalization of marijuana use and possession and to shift focus to therapeutic responses for drug use.”

Those section numbers reflect tiers of infractions and the standardized punishments or “consequences” the district recommends in response. Things like leaving class without permission or using a phone in class are included in Section 1, titled “inappropriate behavior,” the least severe group of offenses.

Punishments in this section include possible detention or a parent-teacher conference.

Section 6 – the most severe group – includes actual crimes like robbery, arson, murder and making a bomb threat and can lead to expulsion and criminal charges.

Until this year, drug possession was included in Section 5, deemed the “most seriously disruptive behavior,” alongside things like aggravated assault, theft and inappropriate sexual conduct. Students whose actions fall in this range can face in- or out-of-school suspensions or even an expulsion hearing.

Students may still face a suspension once drug possession has been relocated to Section 4, but expulsion is off the table.

The goal, CPS says, is to ensure all substance abuse violations are treated in the same manner in the same section. Alcohol, for instance, is already included in Section 4, where it will remain.

Also of note, the district will add vaporizer or “vaping” devices to the Code of Conduct with Section 2 punishments for a vape containing tobacco and Section 4 punishments for a vape filled with any controlled or unknown substance.

These changes will be among the first items considered by President Miguel del Valle and the new seven-member board appointed earlier this month by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The new board will consider this change Wednesday, one day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that will make Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Earlier this year, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx also announced plans to expunge past convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“In that belief here in the state’s attorney’s office we have already gone to move away from prosecuting most cases of marijuana possession,” Foxx said earlier this year in a speech at the City Club of Chicago. “But that does very little to help those who can’t get a job or who’ve been denied housing because of a previous marijuana conviction.

“Failing to take action that provides relief to those who already have a marijuana conviction is not justice.”

Other Code of Conduct changes include eliminating Section 5 consequences for repeated Section 4 violations like repeated alcohol and drug use, and moving consensual sexual acts from Section 5 to Section 4 in order to “reflect the difference in safety concerns between consensual … and non-consensual acts.”

If approved, the changes would take effect Sept. 3, the start of the new school year.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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