WEST TOWN — Three local school councils delayed voting Monday night on whether to keep Chicago Police officers in their schools.
The boards comprising teachers, parents and students at Wells Community Academy in West Town, Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Englewood and George Washington High School in East Side all decided to collect more community input before making a final decision.
Those decisions follow a similar one last week from the council at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Humboldt Park. The board there is leaning toward eliminating school resource officers, but it is asking students, parents and teachers to weigh in before taking a final vote.
More than 70 schools have to vote on the issue by Aug. 15, per a mandate from Chicago Public Schools. That gives these boards about a month to decide a critical issue hotly debated in public education for years.
The issue of police in Chicago schools has become a battleground in the movement to defund police and end anti-Black police violence following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Other cities, including Minneapolis, have voted to sever school contracts with local police.
So far, Chicago has resisted such sweeping decisions.
Last month, the Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted against removing officers from all public schools. The board will take another vote later in the summer on whether to renew the $33 million school police contract.
Chicago has 144 resource officers at schools, 48 mobile school officers and 22 staff sergeants.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS chief Janice Jackson also chose not to unilaterally make any decisions about the contract with Chicago police, instead leaving the decision to local school councils.
Only one school thus far has taken definitive action to remove officers from campuses. Northside College Prep’s council in North Park voted unanimously last week to remove its officers this fall.
At Lane Tech College Prep in North Center, hundreds of students and alumni are petitioning their local school council to get rid of officers on the campus. The council will meet this week to decide when to take a vote.
At Wells, 936 N. Ashland Ave., the council discussed having a schoolwide survey, a public forum or dedicated time at the group’s next meeting Aug. 10 for students to share their perspectives on the issue before voting.
“Kids could have very different views on how they feel about the police in the school,” said teacher Peter Poulos.
Committee member Nicole Murad also said the group should hear student voices on “how they’ve been affected” by police officers in their day-to-day lives at school.
Teacher Caitlin Scheib said it was critical students feel comfortable sharing their opinions.
“Negative experiences for our students with police in their personal life and with [police] in our schools — that can be a difficult topic to bring up in such a forum,” Scheib said. “So a survey might be lower stakes for students with such experiences and such trauma.”
The Wells council did not set a date for the final vote.
At George Washington, 3535 E. 114th St., the council deferred its vote on the future of its school resource officers to Friday.
Council members split on whether they were prepared to vote right away. Some said they needed to continue getting community input.
More than 80 people attended Monday’s meeting, and about 25 people offered public comments.
Speakers were overwhelmingly in favor of removing officers from the school. They largely echoed critics of school resource officers citywide, saying police presence criminalizes children’s behavior, disproportionately punishes students of color and makes students feel less safe.
“I feel that [attendees] have provided adequate data for us as LSC members to … make a decision based on that,” said Trinity Colon, a rising junior at Washington and the new student representative on the council.
Along with community representative Cathi Ortiz, Colon was one of two council members who said she was prepared to vote to remove the officers Monday. Principal Barbara San-Roman and teacher representative James Archambeau also said they were prepared to vote, but they did not state their positions.
Community representative Peter Chico was one of few who urged colleagues to keep school resource officers in place, saying the council had no business to “defy” Lightfoot and Jackson.
“I feel that at George Washington, students’ ability to learn and grow is not impeded [by] our” school resource officers, Chico said.
At Lindblom, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave., the council voted 11-0 to survey parents, students, teachers and staff before the next meeting Aug. 3, where they would vote on the issue.
Joseph Williams, a newly elected parent member, told Block Club he’s leaning toward “no police” in the school.
While some officers are friendly and build good relationships with schools, some are less than virtuous, Williams said. He said he looks forward to a discussion on safety and school resource officers in the next few weeks.
“I’d rather allocate money for better needs, like more counselors and help supporting diverse learners,” Williams said. “I don’t believe police need to be in schools, but I do understand the reason for having some. It should be on a case-by-case basis.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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