A school resource officer walks the halls of Benito Juarez Community Academy in January 2019. The school’s LSC voted to remove resource officers from the Pilsen school. Credit: Chicago Police Department/Facebook

CHICAGO — Chicago Police officers will stay in some high schools this school year under a scaled-back, $11 million one-year contract approved by the Chicago Public Schools board.

The contract will pay for either one or two officers to be stationed at public high schools, although local school councils are able to vote to remove either one or both officers in the future. As of Wednesday, 65 officers will be spread across 43 schools, according to CPS.

The Board of Education approved the contract in a 4-2 vote Wednesday. Board President Miguel del Valle and members Sendhil Revuluri, Lucino Sotelo and Dwayne Truss voted in favor, board members Elizabeth Todd Breland and Luisiana Melendez opposed.

The meeting was a radical shift from last year, when the board approved a $12 million contract with the Chicago Police Department during a tense meeting. Youth activists shut down the street outside CPS headquarters following a summer of protests and organizing against the cops in schools program, including outside del Valle’s home.

But CPS officials said Wednesday the school district was not billed for that contract because remote and hybrid learning lasted longer than expected, leaving schools at less than full capacity.

The school district had a $33 million contract with CPD in 2019-20.

Students demand cops be removed from schools during a protest outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters during a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Jadine Chou, chief of safety and security at CPS, said language in the new contract makes clear officers are not in schools “to take punitive measures, they’re not there to get involved with disciplinary issues.”

“This is an ongoing process, we’re going to continue work with our community based organizations … so that we can continue to help our local school councils continually assess their needs on a holistic approach to safety,” Chou said.

The approach to school safety marks a shift for CPS. Amid the #CopsOutSchools campaign, district leaders and Mayor Lori Lightfoot faced criticism last year for pushing the decision to oust or retain officers onto little-known local school councils with little direction or time.

The LSCs also weren’t given the option to redirect funding that would have been spent on officers towards other approaches to school safety. 

This year, school councils that voted to remove both or one officer were given up to $80,000 to redirect into alternative safety plans, depending on the school’s grade in a district-wide equity index. In total, CPS allocated $3.21 million to those schools that removed at least one officer. 

Schools have re-invested that funding toward positions “aligned with alternative proactive safety strategies,” including restorative justice coordinators, climate and culture coordinators and mental health supports, according to a CPS presentation at the August board meeting. 

Through Wednesday, 20 school councils voted to keep two officers, 23 voted to retain one officer and 10 opted to remove both officers from their schools. Chou said school councils can reevaluate throughout the school year and later vote to remove one or both officers, but schools cannot vote to return an officer to their halls.

King High School originally voted to remove just one officer, Chou said, but later voted to remove both, becoming the 10th school to do so.

A slide from a presentation on Wednesday showing a breakdown of which high schools will retain one or two police officers. Ten schools, shown on the right, opted to remove both officers from their campus.

The new approach won the approval of five community groups — VOYCE, The ARK of St. Sabina, Build Inc., COFI and Mikva Challenge — that CPS worked with to develop a more holistic approach to school safety, the Sun-Times reported Wednesday

“Our goal is to fully transform school environments that center the emotional, physical and mental-health needs of students, especially students of color,” the groups said in a joint statement. “That will include developing school-wide strategies to address the disparities in police notifications and school safety and applying lessons learned to develop system-wide strategies and tools to fully transform school safety across CPS.”

This summer, the school district and police department faced criticism when CPS announced two officers would still temporarily remain in schools even if the local school council voted to remove one officer. The district backtracked amid the pushback, and Chou confirmed Wednesday CPD agreed to allow just one officer to serve inside schools as part of the new contract. 

Before voting “no,” Breland said the “evidence of police in schools feeds the school to prison pipeline…disproportionately impacting Black students.”

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.