In response to increased calls from some aldermen to remove police officers from public schools, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said Monday that she is in favor of allowing principals and local school councils to be the ones who make the final choice on whether or not to have police in their buildings.
The issue may be decided Wednesday as the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education will vote on a motion to terminate the current agreement between CPS and the police department at its next virtual board meeting, according to its online agenda.
Similar actions have already taken place in Minneapolis and other cities since protests for greater equality began a month ago, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man from Minneapolis.
In Chicago, Black Lives Matters protesters and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are demanding that CPS cut ties with the local police department just a year after CPS approved a $33 million budget to employ Chicago Police officers in schools. To date there are 144 officers in schools, 48 mobile officers, and 12 sergeants.
On Monday, Jackson said that choice should be left up to individual schools.
“We are a school district that supports principal autonomy…Principals and local school councils know and understand their unique school communities and they are best equipped to make those decisions. This is not an issue where a top-down mandate will best serve our communities,” Jackson said.
Noting the calls to unilaterally pull out student resource officers, commonly referred to as SROs, from the schools, Jackson said, “there are real concerns that must be addressed, and we are committed to hearing from all stakeholders. She promised that if the local school councils and principals vote to remove the officers from any school, “we will remove them.”
“We will support them in creating a plan to ensure the safety of all of their students. Likewise, if [they] vote to retain SROs, we will affirm their decisions and confirm that the continued reforms are implemented,” she said.
Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church in Bronzeville agreed and urged people not to make abrupt decisions.
“We have to take a step back and not be recklessly fueled by current events and misguided passion that might force us all into making quick so-called solutions that might create larger problems later on,” he said.
In response to Monday’s press conference, the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) issued a statement saying that the concerns of young people are not being heard by CPS or Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“Young Black organizers throughout our city—and country—are transforming the nation with uprisings against police brutality and cries to remove municipal police departments from their school buildings,” they said. CPS “continues to exclude those voices.”
The union also said that local school councils do not have the power to cancel any contract between CPS and the police department. They are calling on school boards to be elected instead of appointed by the mayor.
“The question is spending $33 million on police officers in schools or spending that money on more trauma support, more wraparound services, more restorative justice coordinators,” CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis told The Daily Line.
“The mayor said … that she supported the premise of replacing Chicago Police officers in schools with initiatives like restorative services which has a lot of data behind it and a proven program and a very positive alternative to having officers in schools,” Geovanis said.
Earlier this month, Lightfoot said she would not reduce funding from the police department and its contract with CPS will remain in place, saying “Yeah, we’re not gonna do that.”
On Monday, Jackson said the LSC’s will soon vote again on whether to allow officers in their schools.
She also said reforms over the last few years with SROs and students include the elimination of zero tolerance policies, annual revisions to the student code of conduct and revising or eliminating codes that disproportionately impact Black and Brown students and have resulted in a 30 percent reduction in suspensions and 80 percent reduction in expulsions.
Jackson said for the year ahead, one of the districts main goals is to make sure screening process to examine the disciplinary history of student resource officers is beefed up.
“Let’s be clear, we will not have any officers in our schools who do not meet this criteria,” Jackson said.
She added that LSC’s voted last summer to retain police officers but will be required to vote again to ensure all evolving beliefs are considered.
Additionally, while the Board of Education plans to vote on the issue on Wednesday, the CTU has organized a protest and rally that day that will travel from Federal Place to CPS headquarters.