Activists on the streets protesting police killings and brutality are ramping up their demand to end the controversial practice of stationing police in Chicago public schools.
They came out in large numbers Thursday evening, first at a North Side rally and march that drew at least a thousand students, teachers and parents. Later, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of a closed South Side school. There, youth activists said the police presence in their schools makes them feel unsafe.
After years of fighting to get police removed, they said this was the time for it to happen. Alicia Kamil told the crowd that Minneapolis and Portland school districts decided this week to remove police and that Chicago should follow.
“We have all these beautiful people fighting against this cause right now,” she said. “We have the numbers, we have the energy, we have the spirit, we have the passion to do it so they finna listen to us.”
Also, student groups and organizations have collected more than 20,000 signatures on an online petition calling for the removal.
Chicago Public School officials say they value the “feedback.”
“We remain committed to continued engagement and dialog about the role of school resource officers in our schools,” Jadine Chou, CPS’ head of safety and security, said in a statement.
More than 75% of Chicago’s 93 district-run high schools have police stationed inside them. The Chicago Board of Education approved an agreement to pay the police $33 million each year for the school resource officers. The school district would not say whether it has or will pay the entire amount this year after school buildings closed in March due to COVID-19
The heightened demands for the removal of the officers comes as the school district is already working to gauge how parents, students and others feel about police in the schools. It’s circulating a survey now for people to complete. However, many of the survey questions work from the premise that police are going to be in schools.
Also, the Chicago Police Department, as part of a federal agreement to reform its practices, is taking feedback on the first-ever policy that outlines the role and responsibility of police.
These steps are being taken after years of intense conversation about police in schools. Last year, the school district took the unprecedented step of allowing local school councils to decide whether police should be stationed in their schools.
According to CPS, all of the councils voted to keep them.
But some LSC members say it was a rushed process. Officials announced in July that schools would have this power, and then had to vote in August.
Natasha Erskine, who was on the LSC at King High School, said the meeting at which this was discussed was tense.
Erskine said she did not see a role for police in King, a selective enrollment high school on the South Side. She said she was surprised that others disagreed with her.
“I had not realized that people see police as part of education,” she said.
She also said other LSC members were influenced by the principal, who wanted the police to stay.
Another reason why police are controversial in Chicago is an on-going disagreement about whether and how much the school district should pay the police department. For years under former Mayor Richard M. Daley the police were not paid at all.
Under Rahm Emanuel, CPS was forced to pay $80 million in back costs for police service, which many saw as a way to use education money to make up for a police department budget deficit. However, in other years, CPS paid $8 million, and one year, when CPS was suffering a budget deficit, the city waived the cost.