CHICAGO (CBS)– Chicago Public Schools officials addressed safety plans as concerns grow over School Resource Officers.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson said safety is a priority and it includes who is deployed in the schools through the School Resource Officers program.
“We are further strengthening our selection criteria of SRO to ensure that the screening process more critically evaluates the officers prior disciplinary history,” Jackson said. “Let’s be clear, we will not have any officers in our schools who do not meet this criteria.”
CPS officials said the safety team has a list of additional trainings for crisis intervention. Jackson said CPS will continue to look for opportunities to train officers so that they are best suited to address all of the needs of the schools.
Jackson said it’s not just about physical safety, but physiological safety.
“We have to deal with the root cause, which is the relationship between, in particular, Black students and police,” Jackson said. “What better way to strengthen that relationship, than to have them [student] know police officers through, whether it’s through, their school in some cases.”
Jackson said her commitment is to students, families and parents and to engage with them.
While Jackson supports allowing elected Local School Councils to decide whether individual schools should have Chicago police officers providing security, later this week, the Chicago Board of Education will vote whether to terminate the $33 million contract between CPS and CPD. Doing so would effectively remove police officers from every school in the district.
On Wednesday, the board also will vote on a motion to require Jackson and CPS leadership to consult with school communities and recommend alternatives to the school resource officer program.
The motion to terminate the CPD contract states “there is a well-documented history of police misconduct, abuse, violence, and disregard of human dignity and Black life. In addition, recent incidents of police violence against Black people across our country, and in our city, are in direct conflict with the values of the District and require us to take action.”
However, it’s unclear how much support the motions have on the board, and with Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot both opposed to removing police entirely from schools, the motions could face an uphill battle.
Pastor Chris Harris said school officials and the community need to take a step back to avoid making “quick call solutions that might create larger problems later on as it relates to SROs.”
“Unless I have been misled, and we just heard from our CEO, what these decisions will impact, we want SRO. That’s vitally important, and if we need to reconsider that, we’ll have another conversation again,” Harris said.
Charles Anderson, the principal of Michele Clark Magnet High School, said the SRO position provides “engaging learning chances” for students.
“For me, this has brought so much honor and pride for them and our school, the 15th district, along with our SRO have been instrumental, and field trips, parades and even students participating in their role calls,” Anderson said.
The principal of Julian High School said the relationship with CPD is a partnership. He said officers have provided mentorship on the side.
Amundsen High School Principal Anna Pavichevich said 46% of her local school council is comprised of parents, and 30% is comprised of school-based educators. She said all three of the Chicago Teachers Union local school council members voted unanimously in support of keeping SROs.
“When there is a school-based threat, we can’t risk waiting minutes,” she said. “Our partnership with the CPD and our SROs play a critical role in ensuring that our students and school will be safe. I believe that the removal of elements of SROs from our high school, could result in a significant degradation of my ability to keep my students safe.”
Jackson addressed the need for resources in the schools.
“Even with layoffs just as recent as last week, we didn’t lay off a single social worker or nurse, we have increased the number of those professionals in our buildings over the past few years and we see no reason why we wouldn’t continue to do that,” Jackson said.
Harris said time is needed to address alternatives to SROs. Jackson said parents and students will be engaged in the process.
“We all want change, but we want to do things we want to do the right things we don’t want to just cosmetic changes or quick changes that end up creating more problems in our communities in schools less safe,” Jackson said.
The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statement:
“Young Black organizers throughout our city—and country—are transforming the nation with uprisings against police brutality and cries to remove municipal police departments from their school buildings. Chicago Public Schools, however, controlled by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, continues to exclude those voices, even as cities across the U.S., including Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, Seattle and Oakland, have decided to remove police from their schools.
Black and Brown youth are transforming our society, yet CPS refuses to do so in a district that is more than percent Black and Brown youth.
On June 5, the mayor flatly rejected the idea of removing police from CPS. Last week, she stated it was the authority of Local School Councils to “determine for themselves whether or not they want any CPD presence in their schools.”