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Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

What if the principal discretion provision isn't legal, no matter how closely it's followed?  Why even allow discretion when all the other considerations are

already lotteried -- siblings, race, etc. -- and the waiting lists are

already there, too?

It's not just a theoretical question.  These are public schools, and there's a clearly established procedure for getting into them that is supposed to be fair and equitable and, until recently, in compliance with integration goals. And yet, the current discretion policy doesn't even require principals to take kids off the lottery waiting lists or to limit discretionary picks to those that would further integration goals. 

Hell, the current language isn't even clear about whether the five percent applies to offers of admission, available spots, or actual enrollment, which creates a very loose situation when it comes to counting discretionary admits. 

The only real justification I can think of is the deeply seated notion that clout in Chicago -- like bribery in some other places -- simply can't be prevented. 

It can only be limited.

But that doesn't make it legal, and I'm surprised that the legal eagles at CPS didn't consider this before expanding the program, that the USDOJ didn't try and force the city to end it, or that a disgruntled parent hasn't challenged a provision that effectively reduces the number of available lottery spots in highly-coveted schools. 

Without a clear justification or obvious public good, giving principals five percent discretion is like

telling kids that they can cheat on tests five percent of the time, or

telling teachers that they can come to school drunk  five percent of

the time. It's a mulligan, a "get out of jail" card.

30 comments

walk the plank? wrote 4 years 36 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Really? Do you think that an SE principal/s will have to take the fall?

Retired Principal wrote 4 years 36 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Ron Huberman, CEO for the CPS revealed that CPS officials had discovered "exisiting policies MAY NOT have been followed" at the city's selective enrollment schools and had asked Schools Inspector General James Sullivan to investigate. Funny how this comes one day after a federal subpoena for the names of every student who applied to be among a select group of students handpicked by principals of the city's nine elite public high schools this year. P.S.- Selective school principals, watch your back. CPS is going to make someone walk the plank!

Great Minds wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Re: Parent and Teacher -- I know someone whose child was also "not admitted" because the 7th grade grades were reported incorrectly or grade points miscounted. The child was shorted 100 points! And that parent had to go in and meet with the principal, and the child was admitted. The child most definitely had gone through the "process" that all of CPS likes to talk about -- Rufus Williams, Michael Scott, etc. That's their favorite word!

I think that was an appropriate situation for principal discretion, absolutely. However, this was a parent on top of the process, knowledgeable. There are so many who aren't.

All of our children should be able to go to the local public school/HS and get the education they deserve. Wishful thinking.

parent and teacher wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Something does not sound right--can you give more details on what was miscalculated?

Parent and Teacher wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

In the way that it is supposed to be used, I would say yes. I needed principal discretion for my child when his selective enrollment score was calculated incorrectly and thus fell below the cut score for admission to our schools of choice. When we caught the error, I called and spoke to the Office Academic Enhancement to correct the error and admit my child to one of the schools where he had earned a spot. They told me that they could not help me and that I would need to go to the principals directly and see if they would use their discretion to admit my child.
I had no such luck. I left messages that were never returned. I even went up to the schools to speak to them of no avail. I had taught my child that hard work and determination would be rewarded, and I was disheartened to have him find out that it was a lie.
He should have been admitted under the principal discretion rule, but in order to be chosen, the principal has to know that your situation exists. I couldn't even get near enough to the principals to have the conversation, and the Office of Academic Enhancement was of no help.

crazy search for "good" schools wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-cps-harvard-link,0,6321395.story

"Harder to get into than Harvard

"Parents push, plot to get their kids into the best magnet, private and parochial schools in the city"

By Stephanie Banchero, Tribune reporter

February 26, 2008

Retired Principal wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

The point is, as long as a principal follows board (CPS) policy, they are fine! Federal officials can investigate all they want, as long as the principals at the nine selective enrollment schools followed board (CPS) policy, they cannot be fired! If they didn't, then that's a "horse of a different color".

To Bucky Jr wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

I can't even think about it. Both of my children who attend two different elementary schools DO NOT go to their neighborhood schools. One is in a selective enrollment and the other is in a magnet.

Bucky Jr wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

It's also interesting that something like 50% of high school students in Chicago do not attend their own neighborhood high schools. That hasn't worked, obviously. What would CPS look like if all schools were neighborhood schools?

To selective wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Here is what I think--it's a 4 tiered system:
1) Selective Enrollment
2) Magnet (lottery--no testing)
3) Charter (they can expell whoever)
4) Neighborhood Schools
Most Highschools are messed us even the magnets so pay for private school.

It's sad that is has come to this. Pretty soon neighborhood schools will be "dumping grounds" for the children of parents who don't care and the special needs students and possibly the ELL students. What a sad state of affairs for CPS students!!!!!!!!!

selective wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

The whole selective enrollment process is 'CPS Discretion' and has created the three tiered school system - elite/best; semi-elite -good; and those who don't qualify -neighborhood schools -failing. w CPS has made academic segregation the standard that Duncan proposes for the entire country.
Now Principals can openly discriminate - so what's next?

AM I WRONG? wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

To Alexander who wrote "since there are already provisions (carve-outs) for proximity, siblings, and everything else, i don't see any real justification for the discretion, other than it's always been that way, which isn't a legal justification. "

There are NO proximity or sibling provisions for the selective enrollment high schools. None. And what seems to be lost on most is the fact that the ENTIRE admissions process for these selective enrollment high schools is managed by the principals of those high schools. I am pretty sure there is not a lottery for these seats. I am pretty sure that this 1,000 score that is constantly mentioned in the press is nothing more than a way for the principals to determine who they want to pick. I may be totally wrong. But can anyone PLEASE explain whether an actual lottery is administered for the thousands of applicants to the selective enrollment high schools??? I don't think there is an actual lottery though there is a lottery for the magnet schools and charter schools.

To retired principal wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

What is your point? Aren't they investigating magnets with plain old lottery as well?

Retired Principal wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Federal investigators are focusing on principals admitting students into the nine elite selective enrollment high schools WHO ARE NOT FOLLOWING the CPS board policy, "Guidelines for Application & Documentation of Selective Enrollment High Schools (SEHS) Principal Discretion."

requirements wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

discretion policy: "must meet threshold qualifying admissions
criteria, including published stanine requirements"

Note that the stanine requirements are different for students with IEPs who wish to apply to SE academic centers and high schools. Don't miss that one.

good list but look closer wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

good list of extenuating circumstances, RPIII --
but the provision is called "principal discretion" not "extenuating circumstances," and the provision as i read is both narrower and much broader than you describe -- and much less defensible as a result than it might seem.

as written, discretion kids first have to meet ALL the SE applications requirements (so much for the ones that were too distracted to fill out the forms, taking the right tests, or who don't test well). that's the (too) narrow part.

the (too) broad part is the assertion that the kids are "uniquely suited" to do well at the school, based on any one of a number of descriptors. take a look.

[url=http://www.selectiveenrollment.org/ourpages/auto/2009/4/23/45995240/Principal%20Discretion%20Guidelines.pdf?rn=42260 new=true]PDF here[/url]

one last thing -- a vague provision protects everyone, and gives principals more room to operate in, but also leaves them open as they may be now to being called onto the mat for interpreting the provision broadly and letting kids in who don't seem anything like discrtionary admits.

-- alexander

back to due process wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

If CPS indicates that students who function at certain academic levels have an entitlement to unique educations at college prep schools and these students are denied admission because students who are unqualified are admitted then at least in theory they have experienced a loss. I think it really depends on the scope of this problem.

But this is not really the legal issue before the DOJ, as somebody else indicated on the blog they are most likely looking for some type of fraud issues here. But I am betting for the DOJ even to have began the grand jury process the issues are not limited to just W Young and one or two kids. It could even involve elected officals using influence to get kids into schools in order to get political support or campaign money.

After what has happened in our state really anything is possible isn't.

Danny wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Thank you, RPIII, for that short list which shows the range of reasonable uses of the 5% principal discretion.

As for the very confused anonymous poster at 5:48 p.m. where to begin?

[i]It is possible because the misuse of the 5% rule could deny a child and his/her family their rights under the 14th amendment and possibly the 5th amendment to the Constitution.[/i] The 5th amendment binds only the federal government, hence, the need for the 14th. But, that's a pedantic criticism, let's move along.

[i]"In particular the due process clauses in both of these amendments. Since the CPS takes federal dollars for these selective schools and education is a public entitlement a child or children denied enrollment because of the repeated misuse of the 5% rule could constitute a denial of due process."[/i]

Okay, due process in this example refers to being deprived of the property right of (here in Illinois) a "free and appropriate public education." Chicago Public Schools operates over 600 schools for the children of this city. No child has a right to enrollment in a particular school, but to a "free and appropriate public education."

All of Chicago's public schools are supposed to provide that.

If your point is that only 9 selective enrollment schools provide a "free and appropriate public education" and the other 590 schools do not, then it seems to me you should look at the 14th amendment's equal protection clause, rather than due process.

Alex wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Alex: Study up on your issues regarding students with disabilities. Next time you're in town, sit down with some of the sped attorneys for a run-down on CPS exclusive schools and students with disabilities.

Retired Principal III to Alexander wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Alexander,
Universities use discretion all the time to get a well-rounded student body (not all of them do the crappy stuff U of I did, but I bet a lot do.

A child could have been hit by a car and had a lot of missed school days that affected the score.
A child could have been in a class that had a teacher go out on maternity leave, leaving a substitute in the classroom for weeks and weeks affecting a grade.
A student could be in a "gifted" school where she took high school level courses at a much higher level than another student did and ended up with a B, doing twice the work of another student who received an A.
The school might have a helluva band. All they needed was a bassoon player to round the band out. Someone played a mean bassoon.
A child might have had a sibling shot and killed (not unlikely in Chicago) that affected his ability to concentrate in seventh grade, but eighth grade marks showed he was back on track.
A student might have sibling in the school which helps out a family.

I'm sure other people could give a more complete list.

the reason is called due process wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

The state school code gives CPS the power to make its own rules, assuming those rules do not violate either other state or federal laws. Conceptually the 5% rule may be completely legal, but if as Alexander and others have indicated it is being used inappropriately its application may be illegal.

How is this possible? It is possible because the misuse of the 5% rule could deny a child and his/her family their rights under the 14th amendment and possibly the 5th amendment to the Constitution. In particular the due process clauses in both of these amendments. Since the CPS takes federal dollars for these selective schools and education is a public entitlement a child or children denied enrollment because of the repeated misuse of the 5% rule could constitute a denial of due process.

If it is shown that the 5% rule is consistently being misused and that misuse has an adverse impact on student denied admission to these schools then the rule could very well be illegal.

legality not presumed wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

board policies aren't presumed innocent until proven otherwise, like indviduals are under the constitution

they're just board policies -- unchallenged one way or the other, far as we know. the underlying legality is unknown until it's been proven or disproven.

since there are already provisions (carve-outs) for proximity, siblings, and everything else, i don't see any real justification for the discretion, other than it's always been that way, which isn't a legal justification.

what's the justification for discretion again? what circumstance is it supposed to address that isn't already covered by the lotteries?

-- alexander

bye wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Goodbye Academic Enhancement!

Danny wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Alexander writes: [i]giving principals five percent discretion is like telling...teachers that they can come to school drunk five percent of the time[/i]

Sigh. You've entered the Kugler zone of sensationalistic blogging and over-the-top claims.

This is a faulty analogy.

Further, you have a post at the beginning of this thread from a principal stating he used the discretionary policy in the manner it was meant to be used. (Thanks, "jed", for the post. I hope your example is the rule and not the exception.)

Are you aware of any law that makes "principal discretion" [b]il[/b]legal? If something is not patently illegal, then it should be assumed to be legal.

Two words wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago
trib link wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

here's the trib story -- somehow i missed it

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-cps-probe-06-aug06,0,480368...

basically it's about greg minnifield trying to get a relative into whitney -- check it out

-- alexander

Today's Tribune story wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

Azam Ahmed and Stephanie Banchero’s article in the Tribune today is an example of press manipulation by the CPS. The article makes it appear that the ever vigilant CPS caught Gregory Minniefield, the principal of Young Dr. Joyce Kenner (not mentioned in the article, and Ms. Lynn Zalon the Young admissions director (also not mentioned in the article) were caught in the act. The truth of the matter is that is issue goes far beyond just Minniefield, it is systemic. It goes to Arne Duncan in particular who allowed these back door admissions to go on with out any containment because they were effectively a tradition in CPS.

Ahmed and Banchero never even raise the idea of why Minnefield might have thought he could do what he appears to have done. He did what he did because it has happened for years, he saw numerous others do this before so why not do it too. Rod’s post above goes back to 2003 with problems; some of us can go back further than that.

The CPS internal probe would better be called a hunt for smaller culprits who do not have plausible denial strategies that Scott and others will claim. This probe is similar to what Daley tires to do to cover up corruption; in fact he used Ron Huberman to do just this after his prior chief of staff went down in a federal investigation. Absolute power corrupts absolutely; there is no better example than Mayor Daley. How many kids related to contributors did Daley get into these selective schools via calls from his office of intergovernmental affairs?

anniesullivan wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

So the CPS department of special education and its attorneys sat by once again and chose not to advocate for our special education students.

Our special education students at my school are nutured, guided, sometimes given stern lectures and they show pretty good progress. Our principal and parents are supportive but when our students reach the general high school the ---- hits the fan. They are on their own.

Some of our high functining LD/ED children do get into the SE high schools and do well but they do not need much special education teacher help.

We encourage our students to apply at SE high schools.
Please remember the busfare can be an issue for low income/single parent families.

Rod Estvan wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

The application process and the enrollment process for the CPS selective schools is a fairly complex one. I know this from first hand experience, when I was part of the US District Court appointed monitoring team in 2003 I spent five days at Whitney M. Young High School. Our team produced a written report on August 30, 2003 related to this monitoring visit which included the school’s admissions process. I have emailed a copy of this report to Alexander Russo just so everyone who reads this blog, including CPS officials knows what I am writing is truthful.

I think my experience is relevant to the current discussion on the apparent US Department of Justice grand jury investigation of the enrollment process at CPS selective schools.

Even in 2003 which was before the current rules allowing 5% of the freshmen class at these schools to be exempted from the formally established enrollment process there were very real problems relating to enrollment at these schools, in particular for higher skilled students with disabilities. The monitoring team which I was part of drew this conclusion in our report:

“Our team came away from the site visit to Whitney Young High School with the firm conviction that the whole of the Chicago Public Schools Selective Enrollment High School system is exacerbating the concentration of students with disabilities into the general high schools. In June of 2002 the Consortium on Chicago School Research released a study that indicated that there were high concentrations of students with disabilities in the CPS's lowest performing schools. The report noted: in 1999-2000, 11 high schools, all on probation, had, on average, entering ninth grades with special education populations of 30 % an increase of 10 percentage points or more above their 1993-94 rates. This report also concluded that the CPS's creation and expansion of the Selective Enrollment High School system was in part responsible for the increased concentration of students with disabilities into the general high schools.â€

What our team found at Young was a coordinated effort to contain the enrollment of students with disabilities other than hearing impairment and deafness. We found that this was done through a manipulation of the selective enrollment process that completely operated without school district level supervision. Given my experience at Young in 2003 I am not in the least bit surprised by the current DOJ investigation. But I have no idea what specific legal issue the DOJ is looking through the grand jury process.

In our team’s conclusions to the 2003 report we also laid the blame for what we found at Young directly on the Chicago Board of Education. We wrote: “On February 25, 2003 the Chicago Public Schools formally adopted its Comprehensive Policy Regarding the Framework for Magnet Schools and Programs of the Chicago Public Schools" [Board Report 02-1218-PO03]. We have read this report and found that it is inconsistent with Mr. Duncan's October 31, 2001 memo [on equitable enrollment]. Nowhere in this report was any goal stated in relation to equitable enrollment of students with disabilities in any high school magnet program in the CPS. In fact only two references are made in this report to the admissions of students with disabilities. One reference indicates that the admissions criteria used by schools for academically talented students are to be reviewed by the Chief Specialized Services Officer to ensure that the criteria are applied in a manner that provides equal educational opportunities for students with disabilities. The other reference to the admission of students with disabilities referred to students with mobility related disabilities and physical access to programs. It is important to understand that the concept equal educational opportunities in relation to students with disabilities is based upon section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is fundamentally what is called a nondiscrimination provision and has no requirement for equitable enrollment of students with disabilities within any school system. The Settlement Agreement contains specific language that relates to Magnet Schools, in paragraph 50. The Agreement also uses the language equal opportunity. Our team having reviewed the admissions process at Young in reasonable detail must come to the conclusion that it now meets the requirements of the Settlement Agreement at paragraph 50. We do not believe however that the current admissions process at Young as detailed in this report will help achieve Mr. Duncan's stated goal of equitable enrollment. The issue of equitable enrollment relates to the Monitor's Office's Benchmark decision of November 11, 1999 where the CPS is required by June 1, 2005 to have an enrollment of students with disabilities in all CPS High Schools within 5% of the CPS's citywide disability prevalence rate for high schools. The CPS in Court opposed this provision of the Benchmark decision and the Court upheld this provision of the Monitor's decision.â€

Because of the nature of my role in relation to the US District Court and a binding Settlement Agreement I had no authority to look beyond this narrow aspect of W Young’s enrollment process in 2003. But I remained convinced that given the lack of direct supervision of the enrollment process by the school district even back in 2003 selective schools could manipulate this process if they wanted to. The dimensions of this problem will grow exponentially once all racial categories are legally eliminated from this process due to the eventual complete elimination of the racial desegregation consent decree and it will become a politically explosive issue in Chicago. Hopefully this DOJ case will lead to greater integrity in this process for the future.

Rod Estvan

jed wrote 4 years 37 weeks ago

Is "Principal Discretion" Legal?

As a principal (retired) at a school with a magnet program (not a magnet school), I used the 5% discretion (which at my school was 3 or 4 kids a year) to accept twins where one of them was not accepted in the lottery (supervised by LSC reps and done on a computer which selected kids randomly). I never accepted a kid who hadn't made application by the deadline. In fact, I refused to accept the granddaughter of a recently-retired politician that Obama calls his "mentor." I survived. I hope this mess turns out to be much less than the press is making of it. CPS doesn't need more negative perceptions....Jermih, notwithstanding (what were they thinking?).

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