EAST GARFIELD PARK — A West Side school rocked by a 2019 incident where police were filmed dragging a girl down a flight of stairs voted Tuesday to keep officers on campus.
The unanimous vote to keep officers at Marshall Metropolitan High School in East Garfield Park shows how even as a social justice movement against anti-Black violence has amplified calls to remove school resource officers, city leaders and schools have been reluctant to do so.
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 district’s $33 million contract with police.
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.
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 that’s been hotly debated for years.
Northside College Prep’s council was the first to definitively vote officers out of its school.
But Northside’s an outlier, not the trendsetter so far. Most schools are delaying a final decision or are retaining school officers in their halls.
Councils at Marshall High School, Kenwood Academy High School and Corliss High School all voted to keep cops in schools Tuesday.
Here’s more about how local school councils grappled with the issue in meetings Tuesday.
Marshall High School Keeps Officers
In January 2019, two school resource officers were caught on video dragging a 16-year-old Marshall student down a flight of stairs and using a Taser on her three times. The video was released and received national attention.
The student had allegedly disobeyed a teacher who told her to put her phone away and was kicked out of class before the resource officers were called. Police said the girl fought them as they tried to remove her from school.
The teen was charged with aggravated battery against the officers but the charges were later dropped. Both officers were reassigned.
In May 2019, Lightfoot said the Marshall incident “brought home to me [the question of] whether it made sense for us to have police officers as, effectively, first responders in our schools.”
But the local school council at Marshall Metropolitan High School, 3250 W. Adams St., unanimously voted Tuesday to retain their school resource officers.
Observers questioned if there were enough council members present to hold a legal vote or if proper notice of the meeting was given in accordance with Open Meetings Act rules.
One observer said the council voted 5-0 to retain the officers. Later, someone who answered the phone at the school and identified themselves as a local school council member said the vote was 9-0. That person refused to provide their name.
Chicago Public Schools officials did not answer questions about the vote.
Kenwood Academy Keeps Officers
The council at Kenwood Academy High School voted unanimously Tuesday to keep officers.
Every council member and public commenter spoke in favor of the officers, but many encouraged Principal Karen Calloway to strengthen relationships between students and the on-campus officers.
“A lot of other students, they may not have had bad interactions with the police officers at our school, but because it is a delicate time they may not be as comfortable having them there,” said junior Aniyah Davies. “That should be taken into consideration.”
The vote of approval was expected, as a report from the Hyde Park Herald indicated numerous council members and students supported keeping the officers.
Debra Martin Rojas, special education teacher and council member, said Tuesday she was “on the fence” about keeping the officers when she spoke to the Herald in June. But in recent weeks, Rojas said her colleagues convinced her “there’s a need for both” additional social services and a police presence at Kenwood.
“I do feel now that we can’t sacrifice one for the other, because they all are very vital parts for the safety and the success of our school,” Rojas said.
Junior Ashton Carter said he has been in situations at other schools where officers made students feel uncomfortable. But at Kenwood, “everybody feels comfortable with the CPD officers,” he said.
“It doesn’t really have to do with the exact CPD officers but the leadership team,” Carter said. “Principal Calloway ensures everybody is comfortable in the building.”
Corliss High School Keeps Officers
The council at Corliss High School in Pullman voted 8-1 to keep its resource officers.
Corliss Principal Ali Muhammad said the school has a good working relationship with its resource officers.
“Those of you who know me know I’m not going to let anyone mistreat students,” Muhammad said.
Council member Sheila Jones-Coleman said the officers go “beyond” to build relationships with students, even hosting an ice cream social. Parent Esmeralda Gutierrez agreed.
Parent Cleopatra Watson, the lone “no” vote and said she doesn’t think schools are a place for police.
Lane Tech College Prep
Despite fervent demands for swift action, council members at Lane Tech College Prep in North Center won’t vote on school officers until Aug. 10.
Lane Tech’s council said Tuesday they couldn’t accommodate requests from students and alumni to vote on getting rid of in-school police officers before the end of July because they were waiting on guidance from the district.
The council was waiting for a “tool kit” from CPS with directions on conducting a survey, said council chairperson Emily Haite.
Because they didn’t know what the tool kit would require, the board agreed to wait until next month to vote.
That didn’t satisfy attendees, who insisted on more immediate action.
Over the weekend, Ugo Okere, a 2014 alumnus, launched a petition demanding the North Center school remove school resource officers. Hundreds of current and former students have signed it.
Okere said he was asking for the school council to hold a meeting before the end of the month, and he was disappointed at the decision to delay until a few days before the district deadline.
Lake View High School
Lake View High School council members will vote Aug. 13 whether to keep officers in their school. The high school has one full-time school resource officer and is planning to hire a second, said Principal Paul Karafiol.
The council wants to put together a survey to gather student input. Similar surveys will be distributed to parents and faculty, Karafiol said.
Most council members said they were undecided on how they would vote.
“Every time I come to one conclusion on this, I hear pretty solid evidence the other way,” said Dan Bender, a teacher representative and council secretary. “The No. 1 priority we need to take into account is that our students are feeling safe and they’re in an environment where they can comfortably learn.”
Karafiol did not specify his stance on the issue, but he did say the school’s officer “tends to manage things in a way that de-escalates much more than an external CPD officer who doesn’t know our students and hang around with teenagers all day.”
Anna Proni, a teacher at the high school, said school officers help build relationships between students and the police.
“We’re a school that is trying to improve relationships, make kids feel like they’re part of the community and teach them how to resolve conflict,” Proni said. A school resource officer “is an extra support.”
But Larry Jacobs, a parent representative still undecided on the issue, said his daughter has no such relationship with the school officer.
“My daughter said she’d recognize her, but other than that she thinks of her as just a part of CPD,” Jacobs said. “I’m guessing if that’s her feeling, a lot of students have the same view. If we keep the [officer], we need to make sure its roles and responsibilities formalize positive interactions with students.”
Flo Powdermaker, a parent who was voted as the new council chair during Tuesday’s meeting, said at the end of the discussion she still had “absolutely no idea how to vote.”
“I feel strongly that there are issues we don’t know about. It’s our job to uncover those issues and make the right decision for Lakeview that would benefit all students and faculty,” Powdermaker said.
Jones College Prep
The council at Jones College Prep, 700 S. State St., used its Tuesday meeting as a listening session to address issues of racism on campus but did not take any action on its school resource officers.
A recent petition calling on Jones to address persistent issues of racism lists several demands, including the removal of officers. Students and alumni penned an open letter and petition with over 2,400 signatures.
Some said officers assigned to Jones have a history of racial targeting and sexual harassment.
“Police presence in schools has historically meant that Black and Brown students are being subject to unchecked police violence and abuse,” said alumna Sunny Eimer, who wrote the open letter. Having police in school “upholds the school-to-prison pipeline and drains resources that could otherwise promote student safety such as funds for nurses and social workers.”
Only one person spoke in favor of keeping police at Jones.
Greg Lee of the school’s security staff said officers at Jones don’t have a history of escalating conflicts and inappropriate behavior. Lee said Jones needs school resource officers because of its Downtown location and its proximity to crime and homelessness.
Senn High School
The council at Senn High School in Edgewater did not vote on the issue at their meeting Tuesday night.
Several parents spoke in support of removing the school resource officer presence from Senn. Some parents and community members were frustrated that the council was delaying a vote on the issue.
The council will potentially vote on the issue at 6 p.m. Aug. 11.
Amundsen High School
The local school council Amundsen High School in Lincoln Square already voted to retain school resource officers in June and declined to vote on the issue again Tuesday, according to one parent who watched the livestream.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.