CHICAGO — The 24 high schools that earlier this summer voted to remove one campus police officer saw their decisions honored on the first day of classes, Chicago Public Schools officials said Monday.
This followed days of confusion on whether an old plan requiring two officers at those schools or a new plan requiring just one would be followed.
Thirty-three local school councils voted over the summer to reduce the presence of police on campus amid a national conversation about policing in schools. A handful voted to eliminate police altogether, but 24 voted to remove just one police officer.
Last week, though, CPS safety and security chief Jadine Chou told the Chicago Board of Education that students at the 24 schools would return to class with two officers still on campus. The officers were expected to stay until a new contract was finalized.
But the schools in question either had one officer on campus to start the school year or they received “special attention” from their police districts in lieu of on-campus officers, CPS confirmed Monday. Chicago Police declined to comment and directed Block Club’s request to CPS.
CPS and CPD are “working together” to follow the schools’ approved safety plans, Chou said in a letter Monday to school administrators and the local school councils that voted on their officers’ futures.
Chicago Police “will be working to staff your school with one” school resource officer effective Monday, Chou wrote. “In the event that there are any staffing gaps, schools without an assigned SRO on Monday will receive special attention from their CPD District.”
Schools that voted to remove one or more officers are expected to receive $65,000-$80,000 per officer toward alternative safety strategies, such as staffers trained in restorative justice or mental health.
Hyde Park Academy, King College Prep and Dunbar were among the two dozen high schools that voted to remove one officer.
Members of the Whole School Safety steering committee — which worked with local school councils, parents and students to develop the “whole school safety plans” that included a decision on campus cops — praised the decision to honor the schools’ votes Monday.
The schools “demonstrated the desire to redefine safety through a holistic approach,” committee representatives said in a statement. “These local decisions must be honored to maintain trust between local school communities and the school district.”
The committee includes The ARK of St. Sabina, BUILD Inc., Community Organizing and Family Issues, Mikva Challenge and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education.
Chou and safety committee members have noted the safety plans developed for this school year and beyond are intended to address more than the futures of campus cops.
“This is not just about, ‘Are we keeping SROs or not?” Chou said at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “We are looking at this holistically — what do you have in your school [to ensure] not just physical, but also emotional and relational safety.”
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.
Upholding all schools’ votes to begin the school year was necessary, Dexter Leggin said. His son attends Al Raby High School in East Garfield Park, which voted to keep one officer.
Students, parents, faculty and other school community members must be the ones deciding how to keep their schools safe — not the district or police department, Leggin said.
“If you gave it to the LSCs to make the decision, who are you to take it away?” Leggin said.
Echoing Chou and the steering committee, Leggin said the decisions on campus cops shouldn’t be the sole focus in discussions on how to protect students.
The 33 schools that dropped one or both of their police officers received $3.21 million in total toward alternative safety strategies, like staffers trained in restorative justice and mental health resources.
That’s a good start, Leggin said. Additional funds and programs must continue to be directed to schools, especially in Black and Brown communities which have long lacked resources, he said.
Leggin works as a “peace keeper” trained in restorative justice practices at Melody Elementary in West Garfield Park. He’s pleased to see Al Raby taking steps away from punitive policing, and toward the restorative practices he uses with younger kids in his neighborhood.
“Ditching class, talking back to the teacher or running down the hallway is not a crime. It’s a disciplinary problem,” Leggin said. “Police should never walk into a classroom and pull them out unless they’re a threat to themselves or others … with a weapon.”
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