WOODLAWN — In recent months, 33 Chicago high schools voted to reduce the presence of police on campus.
But when students at 24 of those schools return to class Monday, the same number of officers will still be there.
The Police Department intends to keep two officers in place at schools that voted to remove one until its new contract with Chicago Public Schools is finalized, citing safety concerns.
CPS officials said the district will move “very quickly” to honor the votes of the 24 high schools that called for the removal of one campus officer, but as of now there is no timeline, said Jadine Chou, CPS safety and security chief/
“It is CPS’ intention — and I am confident that we will live up to this intention — that this is temporary, that this is short and that we are going to work this out very quickly,” Chou said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Earlier this summer, local school councils across the city weighed whether to keep officers on campus. Schools that voted to remove officers received $65,000-$80,000 per officer toward alternative safety strategies, like staffers trained in restorative justice and mental health resources.
The 24 high schools in question — including Hyde Park Academy, King College Prep and Dunbar — will still receive funding for alternative safety strategies amid the negotiations, Chou said.
Twenty high schools — including Kenwood Academy, Chicago Vocational, Bowen and Dyett — voted to keep both on-campus officers for the upcoming school year.
Nine others, including Daniel Hale Williams Prep, voted to remove both officers. Those schools will not have officers on campus this fall.
“I am confident … that we will arrive at the place where we need to be, and that is honoring and supporting the decisions made by the local school councils,” school board President Miguel del Valle said.
The Police Department “reneged” on its commitment to honor schools’ votes, board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said. The department has made clear it doesn’t feel a need to be accountable to principals, local school councils or the school board, she said.
Todd-Breland urged the board to hold CPS accountable if one officer is not “promptly and imminently” removed from the schools that voted to do so.
“I’m a bit flabbergasted by it,” she said. “I’m unclear what the safety concern is, or who exactly armed police officers would be afraid of in our school buildings.”
Most high schools which voted to remove one officer are located in low-income Black neighborhoods, according to WBEZ. The decision to ignore the school’s votes isn’t racial “dog-whistling — it’s screaming,” Todd-Breland said.
The delay in removing officers is a political power play that “undermines the legitimacy of [local school councils] at the Black and Brown schools that made this decision,” said Maira Khwaja, Hyde Park Academy High School council member.
“What message does this send to kids? That you can organize, vote and win, but the police will still do whatever they want to do?” Khwaja said. “That’s not a lesson we should be teaching in our schools. We need CPS to resolve this ASAP.”
Hyde Park Academy voted to remove one officer and use $80,000 in district funds to hire a dean of culture and climate who will be trained in restorative justice tactics. The school has already received the funds and will soon publish a job posting, Khwaja said.
Ling Young, a #CopsOutCPS coalition member and 2020 Hyde Park Academy graduate, said she would’ve benefited from the school’s push for a more holistic definition of campus safety.
“I was a trouble student who was always in there with officers,” Young said. “I wish I could’ve had a therapist who I spoke to full time. I wish I could’ve had somebody to bring me and my mother into a space to talk about my [mental health] issues.”
Hyde Park Academy had three officers on campus when Young arrived and two when she graduated, and they worked alongside private security guards, she said.
Peers at other schools referred to the Hyde Park Academy as “Hyde Park Correctional Center” while Young was there, stemming from the school’s reputation for overpolicing, she said.
It’s a reputation Young thinks the school can shake as it welcomes a dean trained in restorative justice — but only if the Police Department and CPS respect the school’s vote, she said.
“Listen to the young Black and Brown people that are calling for a change [and] desire more for their learning,” Young said.
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