NORTH PARK — Von Steuben High School’s local school council voted overwhelmingly to keep school resource officers.
The 9-1 decision Thursday came the day before a district deadline for public school councils to decide if they’ll keep police officers on their campuses.
The majority of the school’s community members said in town halls and surveys they wanted to keep armed, in-school police, said council chair Maria Rodriguez, who voted to keep the officers.
But community members also told council members their school resource officer program can be improved upon.
“Some of the feedback we got was that it would be helpful to have the [officers] introduced to the students and incorporated more into the everyday activities of the school,” said council co-chair Pamela Schneider, who also voted to keep them.
Lujayn Saadeh, a student representative on the council, also voted in favor of keeping armed in-school police. She also said most students she spoke to supported keeping officers and getting to know them better.
Other student suggestions were to check how many complaints the current officers have against them and possibly having one cop instead of two, Saadeh said.
Other students said they opposed having the officers, saying they were intimidated by the presence of armed police who don’t interact with them while patrolling the campus, Saadeh said.
“When [those] students see an [officer], they feel as though it’s like they have to act a certain way instead of acting normal,” Saadeh said. “I’d add that those students felt a social worker would be better than an [officer]. That would be more comfortable for them.”
Having police in schools has become a focal point of national demonstrations in the wake of police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several large cities, including Minneapolis, have moved to eliminate police officers in public schools.
The Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted against removing officers from all public schools in June.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson chose not to unilaterally make any decisions about having officers in schools, instead leaving individual school councils to decide for themselves. The majority of schools have opted to keep police officers in place.
The district announced plans Monday 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 COVID-19 dramatically changing the landscape for schools alongside an increased spotlight on the cost of school policing.
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