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Students continue push for change regarding school resource officers

By Patrick Forrest

The Chicago Board of Education voted 4-3 late last month to keep a $33 million contract that allows Chicago Police officers to be stationed in the city’s public high schools. Students and youth activists had used the contract as a starting point toward police reform in the city.

Eleven different organizations, including Students Strike Back, Assata’s Daughters and Black Lives Matter Chicago, came together to protest outside of Board President Miguel Del Valle’s home on June 24 during a six-hour long virtual meeting.

“I’m a Black mother. I’m a resident of the South Side of Chicago. I’m a former LSC member. I’m a former high school college counselor and a historian and an education researcher who studies race and education in Chicago. And in all of these roles, I am clear that police do not belong in schools,” said Elizabeth Todd-Breland, an assistant professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “We use board money to pay for guns and Tasers in our schools. This is not about individual officers, this is not about a relationship that folks have had with an Officer Friendly. This is a deep, institutional, and systemic problem that requires a systemic response and transformation. It is not enough to reform or make a better-trained or kinder school-to-prison pipeline.”

Board members Luisiana Melendez, Elizabeth Todd-Breland and Amy Rome voted in favor of the motion, and members Sendhil Revuluri, Dwayne Truss, Lucino Sotelo and Del Valle voted against it.

“We are considering going back into school communities that do not have full-time nurses, but we’ll have police officers? Misplaced priorities!” said Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of CTU Local 1.

City budgets show that in the current fiscal year the public school’s budget allotted $33 million for school resource officers but under $9 million for counselors and college advisors.

“We can’t afford to keep investing in policing at the expense of Black students and students of color,” students wrote in a report used to back their demands for removing police from schools. “It’s time to divest from policing and invest in the support systems that will actually provide safety and care to Chicago’s students.”

Following the vote, many took to social media and continued in the streets for calls to reform the school board from appointed to elected.

“Every school community is unique,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “It is not for me as the mayor, and Dr. Jackson as the CEO, to dictate to local schools what resources they need. Some choose to have the SROs. Some choose not to. But it’s got to be based upon what the unique circumstances are at the local level in each school and making sure that we’re continuing to empower those local school councils.”

The board will have to schedule another vote on the contract, as it is currently slated to expire in August. The next Chicago Public School Board meeting is set for Wednesday, July 22, at 10:30 a.m.

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