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Chicago Police Are Staying In Schools After Ordinance To Remove Cops From CPS Fails To Advance

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has been clear about her plan to keep police in schools, said it's up to local school councils to decide on whether school resource officers should be removed.

Protesters march outside of Lincoln Park High School to demand Chicago Public Schools divest from the Chicago Police Department on June 4, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — An ordinance that called for Chicago Public Schools to cut ties with the Police Department was dismissed to legislative purgatory by a mayoral ally and police sergeant-turned-alderman Wednesday.

The ordinance, introduced by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) with the support of 13 aldermen, called on CPS to sever its $33 million contract with the Police Department. The proposal came after cities across the country vowed to remove police from schools in the wake of protests over police brutality.

“… Our students are being criminalized for being students at CPS, and that’s not right,” Sawyer said when announcing the proposed ordinance Tuesday morning. “We want to make sure that our children have every opportunity to learn and grow from children to young adults. And police officers in school are not the answer.”

During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Sawyer asked the Committee on Public Safety to consider the ordinance and move it forward, but committee chairman — former police sergeant — Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) requested the ordinance be sent to the Committee on Education and Child Development instead.

Since the ordinance was requested to be sent to two separate committees, it landed in the infamous Rules Committee, where potential laws historically go to die. The parliamentary maneuver is regularly used to block measures opposed by the mayor or other aldermen.

On Wednesday evening, Taliaferro told Block Club some legislation “absolutely” gets sent to the rules committee to die, but “that’s not the intent with this particular piece of legislation.”

“This is a very important issue that we’ve got to deal with, not only as a community but as a council, and having that sit in the rules committee would be the wrong thing to do,” he said.

Taliaferro says he is working with Ald. Michael Scott (24) to hold a joint meeting of Taliaferro’s public safety and Scott’s education committees to take up Sawyer’s ordinance. It’s possible, however, the ordinance won’t see a hearing until at least September because of council scheduling.

Lightfoot, who previously said she does not plan to remove officers from schools, reiterated her stance Wednesday afternoon, saying the decision belongs to local school councils — also known as LSCs — and not aldermen.

“There was a significant amount of work that was done about a year ago in collaboration with CPS and CPD, also involving stakeholders in various schools,” Lightfoot said. “LSCs are, as you know, elected members. They represent parents, they represent stakeholders … .

“I think they’re in a very good position to make the determination as to whether or not that’s something that they want. If they choose to revisit it, they can. I don’t think it’s for me to usurp the authority of the local school council.”

Efforts to overhaul how school resource officers are used in student discipline have been ongoing and were sparked by federal oversight of the Police Department following the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

There has also been growing opposition to having officers on campuses, though local school councils with authority to make that decision unanimously voted last year to maintain police presence in schools.

Activists have said police target and discipline children of color disproportionately and frighten Black and Brown children.

Rather than spend money on having police in schools, Chicago could use those millions to hire specialized therapists, to fund arts and extracurricular activities or for restorative justice, activists have suggested.

Sawyer did not immediately return calls for comment.

Taliaferro said he’s on the “other side” of the issue from the ordinance’s supporters, but “I want to see the issue debated because there’s very strong debate on both sides.”

The funding to place officers in school’s comes out of the CPS budget, and Taliaferro believes that could prove problematic for those in City Council that want the sister agency to sever the contract.

“These things need to be discussed. We need to have the law department present, but there needs to be some clarity on what we can and cannot do from a legal perspective,” he said.

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