The presence of police officers in schools has become a flash point in the ongoing movement for racial justice across the country.
In Chicago, some activists are calling for the removal of all cops from Chicago Public Schools, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership say the decision should lie with individual local school councils, or LSCs.
“Those decisions … shouldn’t be made by the mayor, they shouldn’t be made by the Board of Education,” Lightfoot said last week. “We have set up a process where local school councils are empowered, they’re getting information, and they should make a decision that is in the best interest of their particular school.”
Now, some schools are taking action. Northside College Prep's LSC has voted to remove officers. And the council at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Humboldt Park passed an advisory vote last week doing the same.
Clemente LSC secretary Daniel Marre says he reluctantly voted in favor of removal of the school’s police officers, also known as school resource officers (SRO).
“Our particular SROs have made great strides in integrating themselves into the fabric of the school,” Marre said. “The flip side of that coin however, is we are pursuing at Clemente a system of restorative justice, and many of the studies and statistics that we’ve seen suggest that students who have socioeconomic challenges are frequently on the receiving end of difficult encounters with the police.”
Marre says the Clemente LSC will hold a binding vote on the issue before Aug. 15, after weighing further community input.
There are 144 school resource officers assigned to CPS schools, according to the Chicago Board of Education, as well as 48 mobile school officers and 22 staff sergeants.
The newly formed CPS Alumni for Abolition is one of the groups that would like to see all of those officers out of CPS immediately.
They’re calling on CPS to terminate its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department.
“For a lot of people in this country and especially within this city, cops don’t represent safety,” says Elias Decker, one of the group’s founders. “Just the presence of them there, in a lot of cases, adds a level of tension that inhibits … really what schools should be.”
But some LSC members around Chicago have pushed back on the effort to remove officers, saying it would jeopardize safety.
“At Kenwood alone, they’ve been a resource, whether it’s [for] students who are enduring violence en route to school or whether there’s been violence surrounding the school,” said Ramona Burress, vice chair of the LSC at Kenwood Academy High School on Chicago’s South Side.
Burress says there should be a program for school resource officers similar to CPD’s larger community policing efforts, as a way to build positive relationships between officers and students.