News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Report on Young Adults in the Justice System

Delegates at the 2016 Illinois PTA Convention passed a resolution creating a committee to study whether those young adults aged 18 to 21 involved in the justice system should be treated differently from older adults based on the latest scientific research on brain development. At the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, that study committee presented its report and recommendations. The report presents the three areas of focus that the committee investigated—brain development, age divisions, and what other jurisdictions are doing, both in the United States and overseas.

Brain Development

The report notes that current research into how the brain develops indicates that the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that regulates self-control and reasoning—continues to develop well into a person’s mid-20s. In addition, a recent study indicated that when faced with a threat or “negative emotional arousal,” those aged 18 to 21 had diminished cognitive performance—essentially reacting like a much younger teenager would. Additional research has shown that the lack of judgement and willingness to take risks continues to approximately age 25. This “maturity gap” is what has had older adults talking about “those crazy kids” and the stupid or dangerous things they do for centuries.

Age Divisions

Under the current legal structures in Illinois and the United States, young people become mature, responsible adults on their 18th birthday, and when they commit a crime, they are treated as such. But as the research noted above indicates, turning 18 is not an accurate dividing line between youth and adulthood when it comes to judgement and responsible behavior. When looking at crime and arrest data, approximately 30% of those arrested are between the ages of 18 and 25, with a sharp decrease in first-time arrests after age 25. In addition, the research also indicates that those young adults ages 18 to 25 are much less likely to be arrested again for crimes when diverted away from the standard adult justice system. Finally, much of the literature on how to treat these young adults in the justice system recommends a two-tiered system, treating those ages 18 to 21 more like juveniles while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults.

Other Jurisdictions

Several states and other countries are beginning to incorporate the latest research into brain development and information drawn from crime statistics to change how they treat young adults in the justice system. In 2016, Vermont passed a law allowing defendants ages 18 to 21 who are not charged with specific serious crimes to apply for youth offender status, allowing them to be tried in the juvenile justice system. California has recently begun a pilot program in five counties that allows those 18 to 21 who have not committed serious crimes to use the education and support services of the juvenile justice system, serve one year of their sentence at a juvenile facility, and have their criminal record expunged if they successfully complete the program. Massachusetts and Connecticut have both had legislation introduced to increase the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21. Overseas, Italy treats young offenders ages 18 to 21 in the same manner as the new Vermont law. Germany and Sweden also treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles than as adults.

Conclusions and Recommendations

While the resolution creating this study committee was directed at young adults ages 18 to 21, the committee believes that the science on the topic merits differentiation in consideration from adults up to age 25. The emerging consensus in the justice system is to treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles, while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults. The specifics of how this differentiation is implemented continues to be a work in progress.

The committee made three recommendations, all of which were adopted by the 2017 convention delegates:

  1. That the Illinois PTA recognizes that youth from the age of 18 to 25 have a different maturity level from that of adults over that age, and that should affect their treatment within the justice system.
  2. That the Illinois PTA will take positions on legislation as it is introduced to address the age cohort, based on a study of their needs and our policies.
  3. That the Illinois PTA amend the Legislation Platform of the Illinois PTA, by adding a new Item 11-e. “Support of laws and regulations in our justice system that address the differing needs of youth as they continue to mature from age 18 through and including age 24.”

Illinois PTA Convention Preview—Resolutions

The 115th Annual Illinois PTA Convention will be held on April 7th and 8th at the Hilton—Naperville. Convention is a great opportunity to attend interesting workshops and network with other PTA leaders, but it is also the time that the Illinois PTA conducts its business. Part of that business is directing the legislative and advocacy activities of the Illinois PTA.

One of the ways that PTAs influence what the Illinois PTA advocates on is through resolutions. Resolutions can come from an individual PTA or from the Illinois PTA Legislative Policies committee. A resolution can call for legislation, direct the Illinois PTA to work with other organizations, provide information to local PTAs, or study a topic further and make recommendations. At this year’s convention, there are three resolutions for the membership to vote on addressing financial literacy, climate change, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Resolution on Financial Literacy

The Illinois Learning Standards for math touch briefly on financial literacy, requiring students to understand how pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars work as money and as decimals for elementary students and to be able to calculate the effect of interest on money invested for a certain period of time for high school students. But the standards don’t address how to fill out a check, how credit card interest rates affect the cost of the things you buy, or whether you should buy a car by paying more money up front, taking a loan for three or five years, or leasing.

These issues are of increasing importance for our children as more and more students are graduating from college with more and more student loan debt. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt now exceeds the total amount of credit card debt in the United States. The Resolution on Financial Literacy addresses this issue through several actions:

  • That local PTAs and councils work with their school districts to incorporate financial literacy education into their curricula
  • That the Illinois PTA work with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to include financial literacy materials that meet the existing Illinois Learning Standards
  • That the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils work for legislation for programs that teach financial literacy.

Most of the concepts of financial literacy are based in math, and one of the most important ways to get students to take an interest in math is to show them how they can use it in real life. Thus, using financial literacy materials to teach math concepts can be accomplished within the existing Illinois Learning Standards. School districts just need to be willing to make the effort. In addition, many financial literacy materials already aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards are available, and programs from organizations like Junior Achievement can also play a role in developing financial literacy.

Resolution on Climate Change

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that manmade climate change is occurring. Among the effects of climate change that have direct effects on Illinois are an increase in extreme weather events (e.g., tornadoes, droughts, and floods) and public health issues such as:

  • Increased respiratory ailments including asthma due to increased levels of pollen, mold, air pollution, and dust
  • Increased incidence of certain cancers due to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation
  • Increased foodborne diseases and nutritional deficiencies due to food contamination, shortages of staple foods, and the reduced nutritional value of food caused by rising carbon dioxide levels

The Resolution on Climate Change addresses this issue through a multi-pronged approach. These include:

  • The Illinois PTA providing information to local PTAs and councils regarding climate change and its effect on the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local PTAS, and councils encourage school districts to consider including renewable energy resources (e.g., geothermal heating and cooling, wind turbines) and green infrastructure (e.g., energy efficient windows, green roofs, permeable paving) when building or renovating school district facilities
  • The Illinois PTA work with other like-minded organizations on the issue of climate change and its effect on the environment and the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local units, and councils support legislation that regulates activities that contribute to adverse climate change, mitigates the negative effects of climate change, supports and encourages the use of renewable energy, and supports efforts to remediate the negative effects of climate change that have already occurred.

Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, uses the injection of water and undisclosed chemicals into rock layers at high pressure to fracture the rocks, allowing oil and natural gas to be extracted more easily. The contaminated wastewater from this process is then injected back into the ground for disposal.

Research has connected hydraulic fracturing to a significant increase in earthquakes, unsafe levels of air pollution near fracking sites (resulting in asthma attacks, lung disease, dizziness and seizures, birth defects, blood disorders, and cancers, among other health effects), and contamination of groundwater. The latter is of particular concern in Illinois, where 35% of all residents, including 90% of all rural Illinois residents, rely on aquifers for their drinking water.

The Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing addresses this issue through both education and legislation. The resolution calls on the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils to:

  • Share information on the health and safety concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal
  • Work with other like-minded organizations to raise awareness of these concerns
  • Support additional research on current and new methods of oil and gas extraction and their potential environmental effects by independent researchers not affiliated with the energy industry
  • Support state and federal legislation that addresses the environmental and health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Join Us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15th

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November 15, 2016 is Parents Day as part of American Education Week. It is also Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield, an opportunity for PTA members from across Illinois to speak up for children.

While you may not feel like you can be a PTA advocate, you likely already have been one. If you have spoken to your child’s teacher or your building’s principal about an issue, you have been an advocate. Illinois PTA has prepared to make Advocacy Day in Springfield as simple as possible, even if you have never spoken to a legislator before.

From 9:30am until 2:00pm, Illinois PTA will have an information table in the capitol rotunda. Come to the table to get handouts to give to your legislators, talking points to cover, and if you have pre-registered to attend Advocacy Day in Springfield, your free Illinois PTA business cards. We will have experienced PTA advocates whom you can follow as they speak with legislators and who can accompany you while you attend the meetings you have scheduled with your legislators.

Illinois PTA will also be presenting a webinar series to prepare you to advocate in Springfield. Each webinar will start at 7:30pm and last for approximately 30 to 45 minutes. The webinars will be recorded and made available for those who cannot attend the webinar. Illinois PTA uses GoToMeeting for its webinars, which can be attended using your browser or an app for Android, iOS, and Windows. The webinars will be:

  • September 29: Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities
    Learn about the key issues affecting children that the Illinois PTA is focused on this year, including juvenile justice, children’s health and safety, family engagement, school funding, and the state budget.
  • October 13: How to Meet with Legislators
    Learn how to contact your legislator to schedule a meeting in Springfield or in their district office, what to say and do when you meet them, and how to use Illinois PTA materials to support your arguments.
  • October 27: Advocate the PTA Way
    PTA advocacy is not just with legislators in Springfield and Washington. Learn how you and your PTA can advocate at your local level with your school district and school board, school principal, or community. We will also cover IRS requirements on PTA advocacy and PTA guidance on issues such as teacher strikes and bond referenda.
  • November 10: Hot Topics Briefing
    Learn the latest on the topics we will be advocating on in Springfield on November 15th. We will cover both the background of these issues and Illinois PTA talking points you can use with your legislator.

Sign up to attend one or more of the webinars and to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15th.

Another Year of Legislative Success for the Children of Illinois!

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2From youth safety issues to juvenile justice, from children’s health to readiness for college and the work-force, from childhood hunger to an interim budget in a year of fiscal deadlock, the Illinois PTA has advocated successfully for all our children. The highlights are below. Illinois PTA will continue to advocate for every child, and urges you to join us this fall for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15, 2016.

Children’s Health and Safety

We have had successes in responses to children’s allergies and asthma, concussions, and childhood hunger.

Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: With as much as 25% of first time anaphylactic reactions occurring in a school setting, we cannot stress the need enough for the availability of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors. House Bill 4462, Epinephrine Auto-Injectors, now Public Act 99-0711, expands the protections currently in place to include additional circumstances in which a school district, public, or nonpublic school may have a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors available in a secure location so that they are accessible before, during, and after school, including while being transported on a school bus. The statue also provides for the training of state police in the administration of epinephrine auto-injectors. The expansions provided in PA 99-0711 will help prevent injury from a severe allergic reaction by Illinois children.

Asthma: On a related issue, students with asthma will now have additional safety measures in place. House Bill 6333, School Code–Asthma Action Plan, now Public Act 99-0843, provides for additional safety protocols with the requirements that:

  • the State Board of Education work with statewide professional organizations that have asthma management expertise to develop a model asthma episode emergency response protocol;
  • each school district, charter school, and nonpublic school adopt an asthma episode emergency response protocol before 1/1/2017 that includes the components of the State Board’s model;
  • all school personnel who work with pupils to complete a program every two years concerning asthma management, prevention, and emergency response; and that,
  • each school district, public, charter, or nonpublic school request an asthma action plan from the parents or guardians of a pupil with asthma each year.

Concussions: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 3.9 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the US annually. They are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreational activities. House Bill 4365, IHSA Concussion Reporting, now Public Act 99-0831, amends the Interscholastic Athletic Organization Act to provide for the enhanced reporting of student-athletes who have sustained a concussion. Beginning with the current school year, all member schools that have certified athletic trainers are required to complete a monthly report on student athletes at that school who sustained a concussion during a school-sponsored activity that is either overseen by the athletic trainer or when the athletic director is made aware of a concussion sustained by a student during a school-sponsored (with student names removed). Beginning in 2017-2018, the data is to be compiled from the prior school year into annual report to the Illinois General Assembly. Is the legislature considering further protections for our children once they receive these reports? We will continue to monitor this topic for future legislation.

Childhood Hunger: Children don’t do well in school if they’re hungry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school, and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence. Approximately 1 in 5 Illinois children are affected by hunger. Senate Bill 2393, Childhood Hunger–Breakfast, now Public Act 99-0850, is intended to help with this ongoing issue. PA 99-0850, amends the Childhood Hunger Relief Act to provide for “breakfast after the bell” program beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, according to a model that best suits its students. This Act also provides that the Illinois State Board of Education is to:

  • collaborate with school districts and nonprofit organizations knowledgeable about equity, the opportunity gap, hunger and food security issues, and best practices for improving student access to school breakfast;
  • distribute guidelines for the program’s implementation; and,
  • post a list of opportunities for philanthropic support of school breakfast programs on its website.

The statute also allows schools and school districts to opt out under certain circumstances.

Education

Two new statutes have been enacted to address student achievement in Illinois.

College and Workforce Readiness: The lack of readiness for college and/or the workforce is a concern for parents, students, and employers across Illinois. Approximately one-half of Illinois high school graduates entering as full-time freshmen in Illinois public community colleges require remedial education. House Bill 5729, creates the Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Act (Public Act 99-0674). The statute is a plan to address these student achievement concerns by creating:

  • a postsecondary career expectations model to be adopted for public school students in grades 8 through 12, defining activities where school districts, parents, and community-based organizations should support students, and the related knowledge students should have;
  • a pilot program for competency-based high school graduation requirements;
  • transitional mathematics courses from high school to college level;
  • a statewide panel that will include ISBE to recommend competencies for reading, and communication and strategies for achieving this in high school coursework; and,
  • College and Career Pathway Endorsements and State Distinction programs to provide student incentives and encourage their exploration and development.

After-School Program Grants: Senate Bill 2407, Department of Human Services–Teen REACH Grant Program, now Public Act 99-0700, amends the Department of Human Services Act to provide that, subject to appropriation, DHS will establish a establish a competitive state grant program—Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring, and Hope (Teen REACH)—to support local communities in providing after-school opportunities for youth 6 to 17 years old that will improve their likelihood for future success, provide positive choices, reduce at-risk behaviors, and develop career goals. These grants are to be awarded to community-based agencies, in which successful grantees are to plan and implement activities to address outcomes in 6 core areas: improvement of educational performance; life skills education; parent education; recreation, sports, cultural, and artistic activities; the development of positive adult mentors; and service learning opportunities. 

Juvenile Justice

We have been successful in advocating for justice-involved youth in relation to the reporting of serious incidents impacting their health and well-being, legal representation, and expungement of records.

Critical Incidents While in the Juvenile Justice System: With the passage of House Bill 114, Juvenile Court–Critical Incident Report, now Public Act 99-0664, provides additional protections to a minor who is committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. These protections include the Department notifying the court in writing of a critical incident which involves a serious risk to the life health or well-being of the youth within 10 days of the incident. The report is to include the actions the Department took in response to the incident.

Legal Representation for Youth: Research has shown that children do not understand the “Miranda warning,” do not understand the implications of making a statement to the police, and are more likely than adults to make a false confession. Senate Bill 2370, Juvenile Court–Counsel Representation, now Public Act 99-0882, requires that:

  • children under 15 be represented by legal counsel during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses,
  • all interrogations of youths under age 18 for any felony and misdemeanor sex offenses be videotaped, and
  • police read children the new Miranda-type warning detailed in the statute.

While Illinois PTA does not believe this bill went far enough in protecting the rights of children in police custody, it is a move in the right direction.

Expungement of Juvenile Records: House Bill 5017, Juvenile Court–Expungement, now Public Act 99-0835, amends the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 to provide that whenever a person has been arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for an incident that occurred before she or he turned 18 that would be an offense if committed by an adult, that person may petition the court for the expungement of related law enforcement and juvenile court proceedings. Once the related juvenile court proceedings have ended, the court is to order the expungement of all related records in the possession of the Department of State Police, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and law enforcement agencies for those circumstance specified under the act.

State Budget

Thank you to those of you who helped seek the passage of an adequate and sustainable budget in Illinois in a year of grid-lock and finger-pointing. Over 2,000 messages were sent by Illinois PTA supporters to legislators, the governor, and local newspapers regarding the need to support education, after school programs, and services for families and children with an adequate and sustainable budget. This created an atmosphere where there was at least some movement in a difficult year: the passage of a stop-gap budget with Senate Bill 2047 which provided funding through December, including for school funding, the Illinois State Board of Education, and state colleges. Is this enough? Absolutely not. We need an adequate and sustainable fully-funded budget to ensure that our children and Illinois families thrive and that schools, colleges and universities, and public service providers can plan for the future.

How can you help? Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues and plan to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.