By Patrick Forrest
The Chicago Board of Education voted on August 26 to keep School Resource Officers (SROs) rejecting the wishes of CPS students, teachers and alumni.
There has been a recent movement to remove police from the public schools where critics say their presence causes undue stress on Black students. Nationally, Black students are 2.3 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement or a school arrest than white students, even as evidence shows that students of color do not misbehave more than white students.
The Board approved a modified contract with the Chicago Police Department.
The new agreement does not give officers in schools access to the controversial gang database, and complaints made against officers would now be handled by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. The contract would also be cut from $33 million down to $12 million, with the district not paying for time where in-person instruction was not offered.
The guided effort to end the contract included a letter which was sent en masse to members of the Board of Education, local school principals and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson, calling on these officials to use their actions to create a safer environment for students within the school system.
“We demand that you take steps to ensure Black, brown and Indigenous students feel safe and are safe in their schooling environment, in part, by mitigating the trauma that student interactions with police can cause,” the letter stated.
“Please leverage your power and voice within CPS and CPD. The power to add and remove officers lies with the principals and LSCs, and we call on you to act accordingly and remove the police presence.”
The vote comes after pressure by CPS students, who on Monday evening, held a protest in front of the Board of Education’s building in the Loop hoping to occupy the space in the time leading up to the vote. The action, like many others throughout the summer, led to multiple arrests with more than a dozen youth activists being taken into custody before later being released.
Other youth activists, like 17-year-old Avery Sims, got a meeting with Board of Education member Dewayne Truss and hoped that his vote would change granting the youth their victory.
“Even he said, ‘I don’t want SROs in schools,’” said Sims, the rising senior at George Westinghouse College Prep. “My reaction was just ‘then why would you vote the way you did? You’ve got to vote the way you believe.’”
Sims, who is also a leader and organizer with the group Chicago Student Pandemic Response, was admittedly disappointed in the vote and believed there was a chance that Truss, who also voted to keep SROs in June and again on Wednesday, would have seen the situation differently now.
“He truly believes School Resource Officers shouldn’t be in schools, like he understands that,” Sims said of Truss. “He doesn’t like the police himself; he just wants this democratic process when we don’t even vote for them.”
Despite Sims’ calling out Truss, other members did not share Truss’ same feeling on the issue.
Member Amy Rome, who voted no, used research concluding that the officers need to be removed for the protection of Black youth.
“The research is conclusive,” Rome said. “Police in schools perpetuate trauma and harm and contribute to the criminalization of Black students.”
Statistics released by the Chicago Police Department in defense of the program showed overall arrests on school grounds are at an all-time low, but that nearly 75 percent of those arrested were Black children, despite them only making up just over 35 percent of CPS students.