NORTH CENTER — The biggest Chicago Public Schools high school, Lane Tech College Prep, voted to remove school police officers from campus Monday night.
The local school council voted 9-3 vote to remove officers ahead of a Friday deadline imposed by the district on schools that have in-school police. The Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted against removing officers from all public schools in June.
“If there is one student that is hurt by having an [in-school police officer] here or doesn’t feel safe then we need to respect those students,” said council chair Emily Haite.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson chose not to unilaterally make any decisions about the contract with Chicago Police, instead leaving the decision to the city’s local school councils.
“Shame on you [CPS] for pushing this down to the LSCs,” said Laura Symons, a council member at Lane. “I don’t have an office of equity. I don’t have an office of safety and security in my house that I can consult on these items [we have to vote on].”
Ahead of the vote, Lane teacher Devon Morales said the presence of armed police in the school can be intimidating to students of color. It was a sentiment many of the teachers and students who spoke ahead of the vote shared with the council.
“Seeing a gun in school is really disturbing. I find it uncomfortable every time I see it, and I can’t imagine what students experience when they see that — especially students of color,” said Jeff Solin, a parent and teacher at Lane.
Jasmin Guzman, who will be a senior at Lane this fall, said she goes out of her way to avoid walking past armed police in Lane’s halls because she’s intimidated by them.
“I don’t want to fear that at any moment I could start hearing gunshots. I hear enough gunshots by my house day and night,” Guzman said. “Enough is enough and Lane is supposed to be our safe space.”
Some parents and council members during the public comment section voiced concerns about not having in-school police in the event of a school shooting. Council member Matt Beaudet likened an armed in-school police officer to a fire extinguisher or smoke detector — people are glad to have it on hand but hoping they never have to use it.
“[But] one student that feels uncomfortable is one too many,” said Principal Brian Tennison.
Morales also pushed back, saying Lane is about two blocks away from one of the Chicago Police Department’s neighborhood headquarters at 2452 W. Belmont Ave. in the event of a school shooting.
Lane’s council also released the results of a survey it conducted. It showed 62.2 percent of the 1,327 students, parents, faculty and staff who participated wanted Lane to not get rid of in-school cops.
In July, Ugo Okere, a 2014 alumnus, launched a petition demanding Lane remove school resource officers. Over 1,800 current and former students have signed it as of Monday.
Okere also organized a rally in front of Lane Saturday where students, teachers and elected officials voiced their opposition to retaining armed in-school police at Lane.
“I want to make it clear to everyone else on this call that the Lane Tech community has made itself heard on this issue,” Okere said during Monday’s meeting.
Council member Ben Wong attended the Saturday event and said it was “eye-opening” hearing so many teachers and students of color share their negative experiences with in-school police and saying the police presence made them uncomfortable.
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 since moved to eliminate police presence in public schools.
Earlier on Monday, CPS announced plans to cut its school police program by more than half in the next fiscal year by removing payment for officers on days they are not serving in schools, and no longer paying for mobile patrol officers.
The budget proposal — part of a broader $8.4 billion spending plan unveiled Monday by the district — is the first indication of how the district will modify its school police contract for next year, with coronavirus dramatically changing the landscape for schools alongside an increased spotlight on the cost of school policing.
More than 4,400 students attend Lane Tech.
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