06/19/2012 01:17 pm ET

Chicago Public Schools Code Of Conduct's Minimal Revisions Prompt Student Protest

Chicago Public Schools students say the CPS Code of Conduct that the city's Board of Education will vote on June 27 contains unnecessarily strict disciplinary policies that will deny many students access to an education.

Students and advocates took their protest to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office Monday, carrying signs that called for "caps and gowns, not cuffs and bars," a reference to the district's zero-tolerance policies that often involve police notification, according to Catalyst Chicago.

CPS officials were surprised by the group's reaction to the 2012-2013 code of conduct, which they say was developed based on feedback from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), a group of students advocating for equal education access, and other activist organizations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Changes to the code CPS made after consulting with student groups include the elimination of an automatic 10-day suspension for severe misbehavior and more discretion for principals meting out punishment, but activists say more could have been done.

In April, members of VOYCE organized a protest after new data showed that more than 2,500 people ages 18 and under have been arrested on CPS property this school year, and a vast majority of those arrested are African-American--more than three quarters of all arrests.

CPS told WBEZ that in-school arrests were down 27 percent from last year, and the police department noted that this data includes arrests during evenings and weekends.

But VOYCE, which has been rallying all year for disciplinary practices that are less disruptive of student education, is demanding a more understanding disciplinary code that doesn't default to suspensions and arrests.

In a release issued by VOYCE June 14, the group claims that unnecessarily harsh discipline within CPS is only adding to the district's $700 million budget shortfall by holding kids back. VOYCE reports that CPS allocated $51.4 million of last year's budget towards in-school security guards and only $3.5 million on school-based college and career coaches. The district could spend less on security if the 4,596 school-based arrests recorded in 2009 were handled internally with less-costly counseling programs that have been proven effective elsewhere.

"Everyone says there's violence and students aren't learning, but that's because our education is being taken away by unnecessary discipline measures," said Pamela Lewis, a senior at Gage Park High School, according to a VOYCE release. "You get suspended for being three minutes late to class or having your cell phone out. You get arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for expressing an opinion to the police in the school. It makes me feel like they are limiting our education."

While VOYCE has argued that arrests drastically reduce graduation rates, the school district predicted a spike in graduations this year with more than 60 percent of students expected to get diplomas, the highest percentage since 1999, according to CPS.