Chicago Public Schools' bullying problem will only persist if Pritzker cuts program, ignores pleas
The Heartland Institute's Lennie Jarratt is convinced that the only chance Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials have of combating the system’s growing problem of student bullying lies in leaving more of the solution in the hands of the students and their parents.
“The only way to ever fix the bullying problem is by allowing kids that want to leave these schools to get out,” Jarratt, a state government-relations manager at the institute as well as the organization’s project manager for the Center for Transforming Education, recently told Chicago City Wire. “Almost 80 percent of all schools have a bullying problem nationally, that translates to a lot of schools here having the problem. The majority of them are not safe.”
Beyond the numbers, Jarratt points to a recent Chicago Tribune series entitled “Betrayed” as all the tangible evidence he needs for concluding not enough is being done to deal with the problem. The Tribune’s investigation found that over a decade-long period police probed at least 520 cases of juvenile sexual assault and abuse that reportedly took place on CPS grounds.
More recently, 11-year-old Jamari Dent, a fourth-grade student at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School on the city's South Side, attempted suicide after his mother said her repeated cries to school officials about him being bullied by other students went ignored. He remains hospitalized on life-support.
“The schools aren’t doing as much as they can because they know the students will be there,” Jarratt added. “Then, the rules won’t have the kids expelled, so you’re just left to tolerate it.”
Jarratt said he thinks Illinois lawmakers would be wise to think long and hard about implementing the Child Safety Accounts program that Heartland Institute created soon after the Parkland School shooting in early 2018. The program that has already been adopted in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia and soon will be adding Washington, D.C., allows parents to immediately move their child to a safe school of their choice as soon as they feel their public school surroundings have become too dangerous to their health in any way.
Jarratt said all of it stacks up as an obstacle to the student getting the best education one can.
“When kids have to think about their safety, they will have a lower academic output,” he said. “It has a huge impact.”
The latest Illinois School Report Card release found that just over one-third (37 percent) of all Illinois students are now meeting or exceeding basic standards in English language arts, and even less than that are doing so in math. It all has Jarratt hoping that Gov. J.B. Pritzker won’t make good on his rumored intention of shutting down the Invest in Kids Act that awards tax-credit scholarships to eligible students so that they can attend the school of their choice.
Private citizens and corporations are also allowed to donate to the program with the chance of receiving a 75-percent tax credit on their investment.