Ahead Of A Key Contract Vote, Chicago Public Schools Retools The School Police Program

Chicago Public Schools on Aug. 19, 2020, announced reforms to its school police program. Bill Healy / WBEZ
Chicago Public Schools on Aug. 19, 2020, announced reforms to its school police program. Bill Healy / WBEZ

Ahead Of A Key Contract Vote, Chicago Public Schools Retools The School Police Program

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Police assigned to Chicago Public Schools will be prohibited from entering students into a new “criminal enterprise” information system, which replaces a long-standing gang database, and police computer terminals will be removed from schools so officers can’t look up students, under changes announced Wednesday to the controversial school police program.

In addition, complaints against school police will go directly to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of police misconduct. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said this will ensure they are reviewed and resolved quickly.

Jackson said these and other changes are being made to address some of the issues youth activists have raised about with the School Resource Officer programs. All through the summer, the activists have held protests and advocated for the removal of officers.

Jackson applauded their “tenacious spirit.”

“Every student deserves to come to a safe and welcoming environment where they feel valued and free,” she said. “We have heard from our students loud and clear. The activism that has been demonstrated amongst our students gives me hope for the future and the country.”

But a youth activism group, the VOYCE Alliance, responded that students are not pushing to reform school police, but for them to be removed altogether. “We cannot expect the same police officers who brutalize us on the streets to be our mental health workers inside our schools,” said Derrianna Ford, who will be a high school senior, in a press release.

The reforms will be incorporated into a new intergovernmental agreement between the police department and the school system. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on the contract at their monthly meeting next week.

The vote on the agreement could be close, given that the board in June narrowly rejected a measure to end the program. The approval of the contract could also come with a provision that the program sunset by a date certain.

The reforms also come after the school district announced that 17 of 72 district high schools will no longer house police. At most of those schools, local school councils voted to remove them. One did not have a functioning LSC and so the police were removed after consultation with the community. A vote to retain officers at another school didn’t carry because that vote didn’t represent the majority of the full membership of the local school council.

The school district has already announced its contract with police will be reduced from up to $33 million to a maximum of $12 million. Officials say CPS only pays for the time police are in schools so they won’t pay for when students will be out of school this fall or when they were out of school last spring.

Not only will there be fewer officers assigned to schools, it will no longer pay for 48 officers that were assigned to travel between elementary and high schools dealing with school issues. It is unclear whether these 48 roving officers will still be a part of the School Resource Officer program.

Despite the reductions, there will still be 55 schools with two police officers assigned to each building.

In addition to making sure police are not the subject of complaints or conduits to a gang database, the school district will work with partners to improve the program. They will offer new training on trauma with the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and district leaders will work with an established youth organization to make sure student voices are heard.

The officers will also get training on implicit bias and working with specific populations, such as LGBTQIA students.

Jadine Chou, chief of Safety and Security, also said the school district is requiring SROs to have excellent discipline records with no allegations of excessive force within the past five years and no complaints related to verbal or physical interaction with children.

The school system also is pledging to home in on arrests. Just Friday, the school district put out police department data showing that arrests on school grounds and in school buildings have dropped by 71% in recent years. About 75% of the people arrested were Black and the average age was 15.

But the school district did not release information on the nature of those arrests, and officials acknowledged they do not know whether these were only students arrested or if it included others visiting school grounds.

Going forward, the school district will contract with University of Chicago’s Education and Crime labs, which will collect and analyze arrest data “To help us further reduce the disparities and disrupt and break this school to prison pipeline,” Jackson said.

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