CHICAGO — Arrests at Chicago Public Schools are at an all-time low, new district-wide data shows. But there’s deep racial inequity, with the vast majority of students arrested being Black.
The data shows nearly three out of every four students and young people arrested on Chicago Public School grounds during the 2019-2020 academic year were Black. But enrollment data show Black students make up only 36 percent of district students.
District records show 408 active students were arrested on school grounds during the 2019-2020 academic year. That’s a drop from the previous school year when 651 students were arrested.
Of the students and young people arrested during the 2019-2020 school year, 73.4 percent of those people were Black.
Schools were closed for months starting in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which likely played a role in the year-to-year drop in arrests. But the report shows arrests have fallen by 87 percent since the 2011-2012 school year, when 3,320 students and other young people were arrested at schools.
“The data in itself is alarming. And it used to be worse than it is right now, which is equally alarming,” said Stacey Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union.
The data, which comes from the Chicago Police Department, tracks any arrests where the person was at a school address, was 21 or younger and the arrest was made 7 a.m.-7 p.m. during the academic year.
About 73 percent of students arrested during the 2019-2020 academic year were Black, while 22.5 percent were Hispanic and 3.2 percent white.
The data was released amid activists’ calls to remove Chicago Police resource officers from public schools. Opponents of cops on campus argue police presence reinforces the school-to-prison pipeline and officers disproportionately criminalize Black students.
The Chicago Board of Education left it up to local school councils to decide whether to keep officers on campus. The vast majority of the more than 70 schools that have resource officers voted to keep officers on campus — even among schools where the student body is predominantly Black.
According to the district, 55 schools chose to keep officers and 17 chose to remove them.
63 Arrests At One School
Many schools with school resource officers had few or no arrests on their campuses in recent years. But other schools reported dozens of arrests in recent years, including Schurtz High School, Mather High School, Taft High School, Simeon Career Academy, Morgan Park High School, Harlan Community Academy, Amundsen High School and Bogan Computer Technical High School.
Chicago Vocational High School in Avalon Park has seen the most arrests by far in recent years. Sixty-three arrests were made on campus during the 2019-2020 school year, and there were 73 arrests there the year before.
More than 90 percent of students at the school are Black.
Principals at Chicago Vocational, Bogan, Amundsen and Schurtz either directed questions to CPS spokespeople or did not respond to questions.
A common thread ties together the schools that reported the most arrests: Those schools have been underfunded, understaffed and have been forced to cut academic and extracurricular programs, Davis Gates said.
Davis Gates said the arrests at Chicago Vocational High School are an illustration of what happens when the district strips away funding from a school that was once a powerful engine for opportunity.
“You’ve hollowed out an entire high school,” Davis Gates said. “The only thing left is to control the behavior of students because you’re not offering them anything.”
The city offered new guidelines Wednesday for how the district will improve the school resource officer program to reduce the racial disparity in campus arrests. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson said officers cannot discriminate against students.
“Rates of arrests among Black students remain unacceptably high, and we must remain focused on addressing this as a school district, and we will do that,” Jackson said at the press conference.
The reforms introduce higher standards for selecting school resource officers and prohibit school officers from entering information about students into a controversial Police Department database, among other things.
“We know that the best policy decisions come from deep engagement of every facet of the entire school community. We are constantly using that feedback to create policies that ensure their safety and wellbeing,” Lightfoot said at the press conference.
The Chicago Teachers Union was critical of the changes, saying most of the new strategies just barely bring the school resource officer program into compliance with the court-ordered consent decree.
After the federal government found a pattern of civil rights abuses and excessive force in the Chicago Police Department, the consent decree required police to make specific reforms. But an independent monitor overseeing the consent decree reported in June that Chicago police missed more than 70 percent of the deadlines for those reforms.
The consent decree required the school resource officer program to implement improvements like implicit bias training and a stricter selection process that is more collaborative with schools.
“What’s sad is that many if not all of the things that the mayor unpacked [Wednesday] was mandated by the consent decree,” Davis Gates said. “She didn’t do anyone a favor by doing what she was supposed to be doing already.”
A CPS spokesperson said some reforms, like stopping officers from entering student information into the database, are not required by the consent decree.
The city’s reforms to the school resource officer program aren’t enough to address the detrimental impact the program has on Black students, Davis Gates said. Rather than cops on campus, she said, schools need counselors, restorative justice practices, resources for managing trauma, extracurriculars and athletics.
“We have to invest in our school communities. We have to love our children and pour into them,” Davis Gates said. “I’m not saying that it’s easy, because it isn’t. I am saying that it is necessary.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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