CPS students and organizers at Board of Education meeting
Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers leave the Chicago Board of Education meeting as members call for a recess at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop on Thursday. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times
CPS students and organizers at Board of Education meeting
Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers leave the Chicago Board of Education meeting as members call for a recess at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop on Thursday. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Dozens of Chicago students gathered outside the Board of Education president’s house in the summer of 2020 calling on the school board to end its contract with the Chicago Police Department that day. In a close and controversial vote, the board opted to keep police in schools.

Four years later, some of those same kids have since graduated from Chicago Public Schools but were back at the district’s downtown headquarters celebrating what they viewed as a mission accomplished.

The Board of Education voted Thursday to remove dozens of uniformed police officers from 39 high schools that still have them and, in a separate vote, to drop janitorial giant Aramark as the district’s cleaning provider.

The two unanimous votes by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s seven-member hand-picked school board realized two of his campaign promises and notched significant wins for education activists who have long demanded police-free schools and an end to privatized custodial services.

Members of the Chicago Board of Education voted Thursday to remove school police officers and Aramark custodial management, two longtime targets of progressive education activists.
Members of the Chicago Board of Education voted Thursday to remove school police officers and Aramark custodial management, two longtime targets of progressive education activists. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Standing among student organizers before the board meeting Thursday, Essence Jade Gatheright said she didn’t expect a repeat of the dramatic 4-3 vote four years ago when she was a junior in high school. But she wanted to show up to make sure resources would be redirected for policing alternatives.

“Just because we remove the [officers] doesn’t mean that they are going to invest in our schools,” she said. “And we want to think about what that looks like in practice.”

The board resolution called on CPS to end the school resource officer program by the start of next school year and instead create a policy that focuses on 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 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 of our schools,” the resolution said.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said near the start of the meeting that district officials will “work with our board to implement their decision over the next few months.”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez listens during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez listens during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Four students also presented their recommendations on school policing from a student roundtable discussion held last month. They urged the district to continue regularly communicating with CPD to flag safety threats around schools but to redirect resources toward support staff that can help students express their feelings, process trauma and proactively address conflicts. Many schools need more counselors, the students said, as well as better staff training.

Some students have protested for years against the police presence in schools, citing data analysis that found a disparate policing of Black children and kids with disabilities and research that shows the harmful effects of pushing kids into the criminal justice system.

In 2020, the Chicago Sun-Times found 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, and data shows cops are concentrated in majority-Black schools today, two-thirds of which have at least one cop.

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

There are 16 high schools with two officers this year 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 uniformed officers in elementary schools.

Dozens of schools have voted in recent years 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.

But critics of this blanket removal of officers 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.

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) was among a couple dozen elected officials to speak about school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting. He urged the board not to remove officers from all schools.
Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) was among a couple dozen elected officials to speak about school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting. He urged the board not to remove officers from all schools. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Twenty alderpersons, state senators and state representatives spoke on either side of the issue for about an hour and a half at Thursday’s meeting. “I believe we almost had a quorum here in City Council,” Board President Jianan Shi joked.

Ald. Monique Scott (24th) said the “environment in which the schools that I represent are in” means they should be able to decide whether to keep their officers. She said she gets multiple calls a month from principals who tell her their schools need police.

“We have issues where kids have behavioral problems, there’s discipline with trying to get them settled in class,” she said. “Every school doesn’t have to have [officers], but some schools need them.”

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said a school in his ward, Roberto Clemente Community Academy, has seen a successful shift away from school police.

“Our students, with guidance, understand the resources that it takes for their school communities to be healthy and safe and stable,” he said. “This is never to say that it is perfect, because young people are young people. But this is absolutely a smart choice for us to make.”

Former Chicago Board of Education member Dwayne Truss speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Former Chicago Board of Education member Dwayne Truss speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Longtime West Side community activist Dwayne Truss, who served on the school board under Mayor Lori Lightfoot, harshly criticized the decision to remove officers and insinuated it was led by Chicago Teachers Union leaders. He told the board that every school has different safety needs, and schools on the West Side want to be able to keep police as a deterrent for violent incidents like the recent shootings of children around arrival and dismissal times.

“Those are the complexities that I, we, my kids, my five young men who I raised in the Austin community … have to deal with every day,” Truss told the board. “But we’ve got these social justice liberal individuals that want to keep telling Black folks, ‘We know this is best for you.’

“Rather than working with us and trying to come up with solutions, you want to go ahead and dictate to us,” he said.

The room turned lively when Truss began shouting his disapproval at the board, continuing several minutes beyond the two-minute public speaker limit. He eventually turned and argued with students in the audience, who started booing him and chanting for the removal of school cops.

After several unsuccessful requests for Truss to end his comments and allow the next speaker to come up, the board recessed the meeting for 15 minutes as security officers cleared the board room. The arguing continued on the way out.

Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers react as Dwayne Truss, a former Chicago Board of Education member, speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers react as Dwayne Truss, a former Chicago Board of Education member, speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Aramark out, school cleanliness in?

Martinez said the move to dump Aramark and bring custodial management in house was a “significant step towards improving the cleanliness of our schools and giving our staff and students the learning environment that they need to perform at their best.”

The board voted Thursday to sign a new contract with seven smaller vendors, some of which have already done work at CPS, to provide some janitorial services. But all the cleaning work will be overseen by new custodial managers that work directly for CPS. It’s still unclear whether the changes will cost more or less than using Aramark.

Stacia Scott, the executive vice president of SEIU Local 73, which represents about half the school custodians at CPS, has repeatedly brought concerns about Aramark to the board the past few years. She said she was glad Thursday would be the last time.

Scott thanked CPS officials for working with the union for the past couple years to fix issues with supplies, equipment and on-time paychecks before ultimately deciding to move on from the company.

“It has been a very difficult fight over the last 10 years, and this victory stands on the shoulders of so many parent advocates, teachers, custodians and support staff in CPS who have been fighting to deprivatize facilities management,” Scott said. “This was a mistake, and you all have reversed it.”

SEIU 73 was a major backer of Johnson’s mayoral campaign through both donations and volunteers. The union is a frequent ally of the CTU, Johnson’s former employer, on education issues. And both unions have long criticized Aramark’s management.

CPS students and organizers at Board of Education meeting
Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers leave the Chicago Board of Education meeting as members call for a recess at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop on Thursday. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times
CPS students and organizers at Board of Education meeting
Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers leave the Chicago Board of Education meeting as members call for a recess at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop on Thursday. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Dozens of Chicago students gathered outside the Board of Education president’s house in the summer of 2020 calling on the school board to end its contract with the Chicago Police Department that day. In a close and controversial vote, the board opted to keep police in schools.

Four years later, some of those same kids have since graduated from Chicago Public Schools but were back at the district’s downtown headquarters celebrating what they viewed as a mission accomplished.

The Board of Education voted Thursday to remove dozens of uniformed police officers from 39 high schools that still have them and, in a separate vote, to drop janitorial giant Aramark as the district’s cleaning provider.

The two unanimous votes by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s seven-member hand-picked school board realized two of his campaign promises and notched significant wins for education activists who have long demanded police-free schools and an end to privatized custodial services.

Members of the Chicago Board of Education voted Thursday to remove school police officers and Aramark custodial management, two longtime targets of progressive education activists.
Members of the Chicago Board of Education voted Thursday to remove school police officers and Aramark custodial management, two longtime targets of progressive education activists. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Standing among student organizers before the board meeting Thursday, Essence Jade Gatheright said she didn’t expect a repeat of the dramatic 4-3 vote four years ago when she was a junior in high school. But she wanted to show up to make sure resources would be redirected for policing alternatives.

“Just because we remove the [officers] doesn’t mean that they are going to invest in our schools,” she said. “And we want to think about what that looks like in practice.”

The board resolution called on CPS to end the school resource officer program by the start of next school year and instead create a policy that focuses on 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 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 of our schools,” the resolution said.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said near the start of the meeting that district officials will “work with our board to implement their decision over the next few months.”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez listens during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez listens during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Four students also presented their recommendations on school policing from a student roundtable discussion held last month. They urged the district to continue regularly communicating with CPD to flag safety threats around schools but to redirect resources toward support staff that can help students express their feelings, process trauma and proactively address conflicts. Many schools need more counselors, the students said, as well as better staff training.

Some students have protested for years against the police presence in schools, citing data analysis that found a disparate policing of Black children and kids with disabilities and research that shows the harmful effects of pushing kids into the criminal justice system.

In 2020, the Chicago Sun-Times found 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, and data shows cops are concentrated in majority-Black schools today, two-thirds of which have at least one cop.

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

There are 16 high schools with two officers this year 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 uniformed officers in elementary schools.

Dozens of schools have voted in recent years 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.

But critics of this blanket removal of officers 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.

Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) was among a couple dozen elected officials to speak about school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting. He urged the board not to remove officers from all schools.
Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) was among a couple dozen elected officials to speak about school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting. He urged the board not to remove officers from all schools. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Twenty alderpersons, state senators and state representatives spoke on either side of the issue for about an hour and a half at Thursday’s meeting. “I believe we almost had a quorum here in City Council,” Board President Jianan Shi joked.

Ald. Monique Scott (24th) said the “environment in which the schools that I represent are in” means they should be able to decide whether to keep their officers. She said she gets multiple calls a month from principals who tell her their schools need police.

“We have issues where kids have behavioral problems, there’s discipline with trying to get them settled in class,” she said. “Every school doesn’t have to have [officers], but some schools need them.”

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said a school in his ward, Roberto Clemente Community Academy, has seen a successful shift away from school police.

“Our students, with guidance, understand the resources that it takes for their school communities to be healthy and safe and stable,” he said. “This is never to say that it is perfect, because young people are young people. But this is absolutely a smart choice for us to make.”

Former Chicago Board of Education member Dwayne Truss speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Former Chicago Board of Education member Dwayne Truss speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a Chicago Board of Education meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Longtime West Side community activist Dwayne Truss, who served on the school board under Mayor Lori Lightfoot, harshly criticized the decision to remove officers and insinuated it was led by Chicago Teachers Union leaders. He told the board that every school has different safety needs, and schools on the West Side want to be able to keep police as a deterrent for violent incidents like the recent shootings of children around arrival and dismissal times.

“Those are the complexities that I, we, my kids, my five young men who I raised in the Austin community … have to deal with every day,” Truss told the board. “But we’ve got these social justice liberal individuals that want to keep telling Black folks, ‘We know this is best for you.’

“Rather than working with us and trying to come up with solutions, you want to go ahead and dictate to us,” he said.

The room turned lively when Truss began shouting his disapproval at the board, continuing several minutes beyond the two-minute public speaker limit. He eventually turned and argued with students in the audience, who started booing him and chanting for the removal of school cops.

After several unsuccessful requests for Truss to end his comments and allow the next speaker to come up, the board recessed the meeting for 15 minutes as security officers cleared the board room. The arguing continued on the way out.

Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers react as Dwayne Truss, a former Chicago Board of Education member, speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Chicago Public Schools students and organizers who support the removal of school resource officers react as Dwayne Truss, a former Chicago Board of Education member, speaks against the removal of school resource officers during a meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters in the Loop, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Aramark out, school cleanliness in?

Martinez said the move to dump Aramark and bring custodial management in house was a “significant step towards improving the cleanliness of our schools and giving our staff and students the learning environment that they need to perform at their best.”

The board voted Thursday to sign a new contract with seven smaller vendors, some of which have already done work at CPS, to provide some janitorial services. But all the cleaning work will be overseen by new custodial managers that work directly for CPS. It’s still unclear whether the changes will cost more or less than using Aramark.

Stacia Scott, the executive vice president of SEIU Local 73, which represents about half the school custodians at CPS, has repeatedly brought concerns about Aramark to the board the past few years. She said she was glad Thursday would be the last time.

Scott thanked CPS officials for working with the union for the past couple years to fix issues with supplies, equipment and on-time paychecks before ultimately deciding to move on from the company.

“It has been a very difficult fight over the last 10 years, and this victory stands on the shoulders of so many parent advocates, teachers, custodians and support staff in CPS who have been fighting to deprivatize facilities management,” Scott said. “This was a mistake, and you all have reversed it.”

SEIU 73 was a major backer of Johnson’s mayoral campaign through both donations and volunteers. The union is a frequent ally of the CTU, Johnson’s former employer, on education issues. And both unions have long criticized Aramark’s management.