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Youth activists protesting SROs

Youth activists demand the removal of School Resource Officers and advocate for more social services in Chicago Public Schools in front of district headquarters in the Loop in June 2020.

Pat Nabong

Board of Education moves to pull school police officers

The Board of Education is planning to direct Chicago Public Schools officials to remove police officers from dozens of high schools by the start of next school year.

The expected move represents a massive victory for students and activists who have protested against the police presence in schools because of a disparate policing of Black children and kids with disabilities. And it comes after Mayor Brandon Johnson gave his blessing last month to end the school district’s $10.3 million contract with the Chicago Police Department.

A school board resolution published Tuesday and set for a vote Thursday called on CPS to develop a new policy that lays out a holistic approach to student safety and “addresses root causes and contributing factors” for disparities in student discipline. The priority should be to help students heal from trauma, address situations through restorative justice and re-engage kids who are growing uninterested with school, the board said.

The resolution added “the policy must make explicit that the use of SROs within district schools will end by the start of the 2024-2025 school year.” The board said it expects the district “will continue its strong partnership with the mayor’s office and the Chicago Police Department, which have always, and will continue to, provide critical support for all our schools.”

This year there are 16 high schools with two officers and another 23 schools with one cop. The rest, more than half of CPS’ 91 district-run high schools, no longer have any police. And there are no officers in elementary schools.

Since the social justice protests of 2020, dozens of schools have voted to remove one or both of their cops in favor of a “whole school safety plan” that featured alternatives to policing. CPS has given those schools $3.9 million to hire new staff and fund new programs. Some schools have said those resources have proven vital to healing students’ trauma and finding ways to de-escalate potentially harmful situations before they lead to violence and the police.

Critics of this blanket removal of officers from schools had wanted CPS to keep the decisions in the hands of individual Local School Councils as they have been the past three years. Many have said school communities should be able to decide what makes them feel safe, and that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t appropriate.

The cops that remain are concentrated in majority-Black schools, two-thirds of which have at least one cop, according to a WBEZ analysis, spurring concerns about racially disparate policing. And by now, the schools that wanted to remove their officers have largely done so — only one more opted to go police-free in last year’s votes.

In 2020, Sun-Times analysis found that students who attended a high school that had a Chicago officer stationed inside were four times more likely to have the police called on them than kids at high schools that didn’t have in-house cops. And there was a stark divide in the rate at which Black students were policed compared to their peers.

The presence of school officers has also not proven to prevent school shootings, research shows.

CPS officials have looked at expanding “roving units” of officers who patrol the areas surrounding schools as a way to quickly respond to outside threats posted to students.

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