Chicago’s school board is poised to decide Wednesday whether to keep officers in dozens of public high schools and for how long, or to accede to yearslong demands by Black students and activists to remove officers from schools because they feel unsafe learning amid a police presence.
The decision will come in the form of two votes that will mark the culmination for the foreseeable future of a tumultuous year of fierce protests that picked up last fall and rose to a weekly occurrence this summer. When the Board of Education elected not to terminate the police contract in a split vote in June, activists’ hopes remained alive knowing another vote was coming later in the summer. But after Wednesday’s votes, it’s unclear whether the issue will come before the board again in the coming months.
The potential outcomes range from a renewed yet significantly cheaper police contract for the next year, to a phasing out of the school police program a year from now, to an immediate removal of uniformed Chicago police officers from all schools. Either of the latter two options would come against the wishes of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and top Chicago Public Schools leadership.
One of the two votes will be on whether to renew the school system’s contract with the Chicago Police Department, this time for $12.1 million instead of $33 million, which pays the full salary and benefits for police officers working in schools and their sergeants. The revised agreement presented by CPS officials includes for the first time a detailed job description for school cops and softens the contract language to remove heavily scrutinized, military-style wording that previously described officers’ school jobs as “tours of duty.”
The other vote will be on a proposed resolution that would compel Lightfoot’s schools chief, CPS CEO Janice Jackson, to provide to the board by March 24 a comprehensive plan to end the School Resource Officer, or SRO, program at all schools by the start of the next academic year.
Lightfoot and Jackson have been loath to issue a blanket removal of cops from CPS, arguing instead that each school community best knows its needs. After votes in recent weeks by dozens of Local School Councils, 17 schools have chosen to remove their officers and 55 have decided to keep theirs. Schools that kicked out their police will not be allowed to keep that money for other programs.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that even as interactions with police have dropped, CPS students who attend a high school that has a police officer stationed inside are four times more likely to have the police called on them than kids at high schools that don’t have in-house cops. And at high schools with police officers inside, cops intervene more frequently at schools with majority-Black student populations than those where Black students are a minority, the Sun-Times found in its analysis, among several other takeaways.
The proposed board resolution calls for “an inclusive, thoughtful, and expeditious process to develop and implement alternative systems of safety for CPS students in every school that prioritizes their physical and social-emotional well-being, learning and transformation.”
“It is the sense of the Board of Education that there are alternatives to the SRO Program in CPS that will more effectively build positive community relationships, ensure a safe learning environment for students and address students’ social and emotional needs,” the resolution reads.
“The Board has not yet been presented with a vision for the future of safety in schools that includes the further reduction or elimination of the SRO program and their replacement with such alternatives.”
The resolution also calls for “rigorous engagement” with school communities on next steps and a “budgetary plan with additional funding for schools that phase out SROs to implement alternative school safety plans from a flexible, coherent menu of supports.”
Board members Elizabeth Todd-Breland and Amy Rome have led the charge in recent months — at least among board members — to remove police from schools. They were behind a pair of resolutions in June that aimed to terminate the board’s contract with CPD and develop alternative solutions.
That June vote failed 4-3, with only member Luisiana Melendez joining the board’s other two women against Board President Miguel del Valle, Vice President Sendhil Revuluri and members Dwayne Truss and Lucino Sotelo. Youth activists protested outside the homes of Revuluri and Truss last week urging them to change their minds, and two students were among 13 arrested at a demonstration outside CPS’ downtown headquarters this week.
Revuluri appeared on the fence until moments before the June vote, asking what other plans could be made in the coming months to replace officers in schools. It’s unclear if the proposed resolution is enough to convince Revuluri or the other three board members who voted in favor of the police agreement, but it presents a potential compromise that could see officers remain in schools this year with time to develop a plan by next year.
The proposed contract renewal comes with clearer guidelines touted by Lightfoot as “major reforms.” Officers cannot intervene in school discipline, can no longer enter student information into CPD’s flawed gang database, should serve as a “role model in the students’ environment” and will undergo further training on dealing with children of various backgrounds. The city also vowed to implement more restrictive qualifications and oversight.
Many Black students and activists have said the money spent on policing, even reduced by more than half, would be better used for counselors, social workers and other resources.
via Chicago Sun-Times
August 26, 2020 at 05:30PM