NORWOOD PARK — Taft High School’s local school council voted Wednesday to approve its Whole School Safety Plan, which calls on the school to keep its four on-campus police officers while hiring an additional social worker and security guard.
The 8-3 vote marks the second time the council voted to keep its police officers, called school resource officers. Last summer, Taft’s council unanimously voted to keep its officers after Chicago Public Schools punted the decision about whether to keep police in its buildings to the individual councils that govern most district-run schools.
Having police officers in schools has become a focal point in national demonstrations protesting police violence; but, locally, most school councils have opted to keep the officers on campus.
After much discussion over the past year about the issue at Taft, the 2021-22 safety plan is a compromise that represents the balance officers and social workers can provide to make the school community feel safe and welcomed, the board said.
Principal Mark Grishaber, who has been in the role since 2015 and is a lifelong Northwest Side resident, said keeping officers on campus will help rebuild trust between the students and the Police Department, which has been rocky, and show the community the positive side of the police.
“I believe that, theoretically, society is better when they get along with their Police Department,” Grishaber said. “Our Police Department has a black eye right now. The way you fix that is not to remove police officers but to show the next generation really good police officers and what they are like.”
Grishaber said students will meet every year with all of the police officers, and officers will be part of the Student Voice Committee so they can better interact with the whole student body. He said he wants students and officers “on a first-name basis.”
“They are part psychologists, part social workers. They are everything they need to be … . They will be walking around interacting with our kids,” he said.
Outgoing council Chair Kathy Fern, who also voted for the plan, said the board participated in training last year to learn more about school resource officers and their responsibilities.
“I was happy to learn that they went through a special program to be” a school resource officer, Fern said. “There is a great relationship between Mr. Grishaber, the staff at the school and the 16th [Police] District. It’s a good conduit for working together as partners to make sure our kids and the neighborhood is safe.”
Teacher Bridget Doherty Trebing, who voted against the plan and is a teacher representative on the council, said her colleagues would have preferred to trade in at least two officers and get $50,000 each from CPS. They would use the money for alternative safety practices and counselors, she said.
According to results from a survey of Taft teachers, 41 asked to remove two or more officers, while 30 respondents asked to keep them. About eight left the question blank, Doherty Trebing said.
“The majority of teachers would prefer to see reduced [officers] and put the money toward other resources,” Trebing said.
The council argued the new plan will already lead to the hiring of an additional social worker and a security guard, which appeased parents at the virtual meeting who voted yes on the plan.
“It’s not one or another … . [Students] deserve both,” said parent Krissy Estrada.
The school has three social workers for about 3,655 students on both campuses. That’s made it difficult to serve all of the students’ needs, Grishaber said.
Grishaber said hiring one more social worker by using $100,000 from the school’s budget will give students more access to social services. Money for the security guard will also come from allocated budget funds, he said.
“In the past, there has been a lack of social workers. So now, in future years, we will always have a social worker freed up to help our kids,” Grishaber said.
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