Whitney Young Magnet School wins Blue Ribbon Award for the second time. Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago

WEST LOOP — Whitney Young Magnet High School is keeping police officers at the selective enrollment West Loop school following a contentious debate Wednesday.

Though all students, alumni and parents who spoke urged the committee to listen to students and set an example by ousting officers from the prestigious school, Whitney Young’s local school council voted 8-5 to keep police officers after more than two hours of discussion.

Following unrest stemming from police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis, activists have demanded Chicago Public Schools cut ties with the Police Department and remove officers from schools as part of a larger movement against police violence.

City and district leaders have resisted taking widespread action, instead requiring local school councils to make decisions for their own campuses.

Alumna Destiny Harris said Black and Brown students are over-policed in every aspect of their lives and the school doesn’t need to have officers policing students while they are getting an education. Officers on campus only perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline, she said.

Asha Edwards, a 2019 alumna, said the removal of cops from schools is a civil rights issue.

“We have Black students telling you, ‘We do not feel safe … . You’re either with us or against us,'” Edwards said.

Parent Paula Barajas said it saddened her to hear students of color pleading with the school council to listen to them.

“This is your opportunity to get off the fence and choose a side. And the side should be with the students right now who are in the building every day,” Barajas said.

The vote came after more than six hours of town halls meetings with students, parents, teachers and community members.

Nearly 500 current and former students responded to Whitney Young alumni on Instagram posts seeking feedback. More than 90 percent of the respondents called for officers to be removed from the school, a student member of the council said.

Principal Joyce D. Kenner, who voted to keep officers on campus, said the committee spent a “tremendous amount of time” vetting the issue and listening to students, parents, teachers and community members.

“Whether you want to believe me or not … my priority has always been …the safety of everybody in the building,” Kenner said.  “My disagreement with you guys about the police officers in the building does not mean that I don’t care. I do have an open-door policy … . I do care.

“You can’t get angry with people when they disagree with you. Everybody has a right to their opinion and position. I am trying to keep Whitney Young as safe as possible.”

Other council members who favored keeping cops on campus said they were reluctant to keep officers but would be more willing to remove them once other safety measures were in place. Some members said the district thrust the decision on local boards without giving them a third option to make everyone feel safe at the school.

“I’m angry that they made us make this decision without providing an alternative. We are parent volunteers on this council … . We aren’t experts on school safety or equity and inclusion, so this is turned into the most difficult decision we’ve had to make as [local school council] members,” said parent and chairperson Kristin Boeke-Greven.

Boeke-Greven, who voted to remove officers from campus, said the council recently committed to making decisions through a racial equity lens and the vote was an opportunity to do so. 

While Boeke-Greven said she doesn’t have a problem with the officers at Whitney Young, she said she fundamentally believes police officers do not belong in schools.

“I think it’s awful that CPS spends $33 million on [school resource officers] and only $8 million on school counselors. I think we need to send a message to CPS that there needs to be a better way,” she said.

Read all of Block Club’s coverage on school resource officers here.

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Pilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.orgnnPilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.org Twitter @MauricioPena