Wednesday marks the deadline for about 50 local school councils with Chicago Public Schools to decide whether they want to keep their school resource officers — Chicago police officers assigned to work on school campuses.
So far, CPS data shows that most of the schools are set to keep at least one officer. While they’ve been the subject of controversy, particularly after last year’s racial justice demonstrations, supporters of having officers on campus argue that they can be part of a comprehensive safety plan.
“They’ve been a resource, whether it’s (helping) students who’ve endured violence en route to school or whether there has been violence surrounding the school that had to result in a soft lockdown,” Ramona Burress, a member of Kenwood Academy High School’s local school council told WTTW News last year. “Those things would only occur because we had those officers present to be the resource … that they are intended to be,” he said.
But some students, parents and community groups have pushed back, saying police officers aren’t the only means to keeping schools safe.
“Safety doesn’t always mean police officers,” said Meyiya Coleman, an organizer with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, which has worked to help develop school safety plans that don’t involve police. “I think safety for young people should mean getting the resources they need inside of their schools to excel, to succeed, and also inside of their communities … like mental health and behavioral health resources.”
VOYCE is among the community groups that’s helped develop alternative safety and restorative justice models, including at Curie High School. Coleman says these models better respond to the needs of students who may be dealing with PTSD, anxiety and depression, issues she thinks can be exacerbated by a school environment.
“When they say, ‘I don’t feel safe with a police officer in our school, I feel more safe with a counselor in my school,’ why aren’t we listening to our students?” Coleman said.