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Protesters in 2020 against school officers

Youth activists demand the removal of school resource officers from Chicago Public Schools in front of CPS’ headquarters on June 9, 2020. CPS officials have told some principals in December that the school board is considering removing resource officers at all schools.

Pat Nabong

Chicago Board of Education is considering removing cops from schools this fall

In a move that could reshape Chicago Public Schools to align with Mayor Brandon Johnson’s vision, CPS officials are telling principals to prepare for the possible removal of police officers stationed in school buildings by next fall.

CPS officials recently told principals that school board members don’t support having Chicago police officers in schools, WBEZ has confirmed with one principal present at a recent meeting. The news was first reported last week by Nadig Newspapers, a local paper covering Chicago’s Northwest Side.

For the last few years, Local School Councils have had the power to vote whether to keep police officers, known as school resource officers, in their schools. When he was running for mayor, Johnson declared that “armed officers have no place in schools in communities already struggling with over-incarceration, criminalization, profiling and mistrust.” But upon taking office, Johnson said he was OK with LSCs choosing whether to keep officers.

The school board will vote this summer whether to renew the $10.3 million police contract. When they were appointed, board members said they had questions about having police in schools, including whether students feel safer with them and whether they truly keep students safe. There also are concerns about the over-representation of schools with majority Black students that have police stationed in them.

Taft High School Principal Mark Grishaber told WBEZ he attended a virtual meeting in December that included CPS board members and other principals. At the meeting, CPS officials indicated board members had made up their mind to remove the officers, though he hopes that they can be persuaded to reconsider, Grishaber said.

Taft, on the far Northwest Side, is one of 16 high schools with two officers. An additional 23 schools have one police officer. CPS has 91 traditional high schools.

The timing of how the board would remove officers is unclear. The school board will likely want feedback around any new safety or discipline policy, but may stipulate that they don’t want school resource officers as part of the policy.

Troy LaRaviere, the head of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, said several of his members heard about the plan and told him they are worried about it. He said he understands the school board’s position, but that some principals believe it is better to have police in the schools who know their students and have been trained to respond to situations.

Neither the mayor’s spokespeople nor board members responded to questions about the issue, though one board member said a “concrete decision and process have not been finalized” — and the school district did not immediately provide a response.

Grishaber, other principals and Local School Council members from schools that have kept school resource officers say the officers make schools safe from outside threats and officers develop good relationships with students. He said he thinks it is important that LSCs retain the power to keep police officers.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 38th Ward, said he was told about the change from two CPS sources and thinks it is “a terrible idea” to strip LSCs of the power to determine what’s best for their schools. “Bottom line, it is not one-size fits all,” he said.

Sposato plans to attend the January school board meeting to speak against the move and he’s also talking to other aldermen to get additional support.

Nearly all the board of education members who approved last year’s $10.3 million school resource office contract have been replaced by Johnson appointees.

The only carryover from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s board of education is Elizabeth Todd-Breland, a history professor who has voted no on the police contract in the past. She is joined by other members who have spoken against any measures that they say make schools resemble prisons, including the executive director of the West Side Justice Center and a woman who worked on a report critical of school resource officers. This board questioned having metal detectors in schools.

For years, social justice advocates and the Chicago Teachers Union have criticized police officers in schools, pointing to studies that show they lead to the criminalization of student misconduct and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Nationally, schools with predominantly Black and Latino students also are more likely to have school resource officers than schools with mostly white and Asian students, studies show.

That over-representation has become more pronounced in Chicago Public Schools as fewer schools have school resource officers. As of this year, two-thirds of majority Black district-run high schools have at least one officer, while a third of high schools with majority Latino populations or mixed high schools have one, according to a WBEZ analysis.

For decades, CPS provided high schools with two officers without much discussion, though there was controversy over whether the city or school district should pay for them. Then, in 2019, CPS gave LSCs the power to vote on keeping school resource officers. In that first year, all schools kept them.

In the summers of 2020 and 2021, some 24 schools voted to remove all officers, but in the past two years only one remaining school voted to remove both of its officers. LSCs were not given the ability to add them back.

High schools have been required for the last several years to develop “Whole School Comprehensive Safety Plans,” which are intended to take a holistic approach to discipline and safety. In the past, Local Schools Councils were given the option to decide if they wanted school resource officers as part of those plans.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on X @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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