NORWOOD PARK — Taft High School’s Local School Council unanimously voted 12-0 Tuesday to keep its four in-school police officers on campus.
Last month, the Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted against removing officers from all public schools. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools 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.
Taft’s council chair, Kathy Fern, blasted the CPS Board for forcing this controversial decision upon the more than 70 schools with resource officers instead. She said the amount of pressure the council has received from people on both sides of the issue ahead of the vote was “truly crushing.”
The council’s main responsibilities are voting on the school’s budget and hiring and firing its principal, she said, not making decisions about the safety of the school.
“If we really had power, we’d have voted out Aramark years ago,” Fern said.
Last week, the council hosted a two-hour virtual town hall on the cops in schools issue that reached capacity, with 19 people speaking. Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, people for and against removing the officers sent emails to the council.
“I’ve been thinking about this for two weeks and didn’t sleep all last night or all week long,” Taft Principal Mark Grishaber said.
Had the vote happened when he was first brought on in 2015, Grishaber said he would have voted the police out of the school because he took issue with how they “secured the school.”
Since then, he has worked to change the school’s security protocols to better serve students and hasn’t had a complaint about in-school police over the past two years, he said.
“But I still feel rushed [about this decision] and I don’t like feeling rushed,” Grishaber said.
Kirstin Roberts, who commented in the chat during the online meeting, said it didn’t matter if Taft had no issues with in-school police. She said if enough schools vote to remove police it will influence CPS to end its contract with the Police Department and force them to reinvest the money into other resources like nurses and social workers.
“[Please] lead the way North Side College Prep, Juarez and Clemente have by voting to get rid of SROs,” she wrote.
Council member Laura Keeling was also frustrated with how CPS was handling the issue but said regardless of the vote to keep police at Taft, the school community should continue to have conversations about systemic racism. She said she wants to revisit the issue during the upcoming school year and wants to hear from more students and parents about the future of in-school police.
Having police officers in schools has become a focal point in national demonstrations protesting police violence in the wake of police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Several large cities, including Minneapolis, have moved to remove police from public schools.
More than 70 schools have to vote on the issue by Aug. 15, per a mandate from CPS. 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.
The CPS board will take another vote later in the summer on whether to renew the district’s $33 million contract with police.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.