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Students in This Illinois School District Are Getting Tickets for Misbehaving

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High schoolers being ticketed. | Illustration: Lex Villena; Photo 52298048 © Joe Sohm |

Students at an Illinois school district have been receiving tickets for misbehavior, resulting in fines of over $750, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education this month. Further, the complaint alleges that black students in particular were singled out for this punishment—and white students who similarly broke school rules weren’t issued fines as frequently.

Rockford Public Schools (RPS) serves a diverse group of nearly 30,000 students, around 30 percent of whom are black, 26 percent are white, and 31 percent are Hispanic. To handle disciplinary infractions, students are sometimes sent to school resource officers (SROs).

“Once students are referred by RPS staff to SROs, SROs frequently issue referred students municipal tickets, which can result in unaffordable fines and fees over $750, despite the existence of an Illinois state law that prohibits the imposition of monetary fines or fees as a school disciplinary consequence,” the complaint reads. “If a student wishes to contest a ticket, they must miss school to attend a municipal administrative adjudication hearing where they have no right to appointed counsel.”

The complaint alleges that black students are unfairly targeted for tickets, noting that when black and white students violated the same school rules, black students were more likely to be sent to SROs. Further, these tickets are only technically legal because a police officer, not a school official, is doling them out. However, even the legality of using SROs to hand out tickets is disputed.

“For instance, this current school year, nine Black students were referred to the SRO and received municipal tickets for allegedly ‘trespassing,’” the complaint reads. “Although twenty-seven White RPS students also had…’trespassing’ violations, not one of those students was ticketed or referred to the SRO.”

Rockford Public Schools is far from the first school system in Illinois to allow SROs to ticket misbehaving students. A 2022 ProPublica investigation found that, during the school years ending in 2019, 2020, and 2021, students at Illinois public schools were issued more than 11,000 tickets.

The fines often cost families hundreds of dollars. Students who fail to pay can get sent to debt collections or face damage to their future credit scores. 

“Confronted with hundreds of dollars in fines, parents often plead for extra time to pay or ask whether their children can do community service instead. They say the fines would eat up their entire paychecks and point out their children have no income,” ProPublica wrote in 2022. “But in most cases, families have only two choices: admit wrongdoing and agree to pay the amount offered by a prosecutor, or fight the ticket and risk paying a much higher penalty.”

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