15 Chicago high schools have voted to keep their school resource officers, despite protest movement against police in CPS buildings

Christel Deskins

At least three Chicago high schools have voted to discontinue having resource officers from the Chicago Police Department — but at least 15 more have decided to keep their officers, and dozens of others have yet to decide. Chicago Public Schools released a list on its website this week for […]

At least three Chicago high schools have voted to discontinue having resource officers from the Chicago Police Department — but at least 15 more have decided to keep their officers, and dozens of others have yet to decide.

Chicago Public Schools released a list on its website this week for tracking the votes by Local School Councils on school-based police officers following requests for greater transparency on the process.

So far, Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen and Northside College Prep in North Park have voted to eliminate resource officers, as has Robert Clemente Community Academy in West Town, though that’s not yet updated on the website.

Amundsen, Douglass, Kenwood, King and Marshall are among the schools whose councils have voted to retain the officers, and several more votes were scheduled for Tuesday.

The new list debuted as a parent advocacy group has called into question the legitimacy of the votes last summer that placed officers in 72 district-run schools.

Raise Your Hand, one of the groups that’s advocated for police-free schools, said records they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act contradict the district’s previous assertion that all Local School Councils at schools with assigned officers voted last year to retain them. The group also called for more investment in the councils.

The data “continues to show that the only body with the full power to remove police from schools is the Board of Education,” said the group’s executive director, Jianan Shi. “While we fully support all the local organizing to remove cops at their high schools, only the Board can remove the 48 mobile units and 22 staff sergeants in this contract. Even when all schools vote to remove SROs, CPS will still be paying millions to CPD.”

The district last year paid $33 million to CPD for the resource officer program.

CPS officials said some of the data provided for the Raise Your Hand report was missing information.

But Raise Your Hands says its records show that more than a dozen local councils voted without having enough members present for a quorum, so the vote was invalid.

The group also raised other concerns about some of the votes, such as what it said was unclear guidance for the handful of schools whose council members are appointed rather than elected and generally don’t have full powers.

Karen Zaccor, a teacher and local school council member at Uplift Community High School, said four members of the council were present at a “hastily called” meeting last year and told to reach out to poll the other members, something they’d never done before. Many members included “qualifications” to their yes votes, such as wanting the resource officers to be unarmed and to have more involvement with students, Zaccor said.

The former council chair at King College Prep, Natasha Erskine, said she disputed the 6-2 vote recorded for that council last year. King’s council members were told at a monthly meeting that they needed to vote on the police decision within eight days, she said. Though members discussed the issue, including the number of complaints against an officer assigned to their school, she said they didn’t actually vote.

“Because we were not previously told, the item was not on our regular agenda in order to vote,” Erskine said in a statement. “…I’m not clear as to how our discussion (without any guiding information) was used to tally a 6-2 retention determination.”

CPS officials said they’re aware of some of the issues surrounding the local school councils and are working on it.

“Chicago Public Schools is committed to increasing transparency and awareness around critical decisions being made by LSCs and as part of that commitment, it is posting dates of LSC meetings and information online for the public,” said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton. “Last year was the district’s inaugural process of having LSCs vote on SROs and we have taken firm steps to improve and further formalize the process with training and additional resources and support for LSCs while they navigate this decision. We are encouraged by this renewed interest in the role of LSCs and hope it encourages more people to serve their local schools in this critical capacity.”

Since last year, CPS has taken steps to formalize the process for voting and clarified expectations, offering training for local school council members and providing a toolkit to help them vote on officers.

On Friday, Raise Your Hand released a toolkit of their own to address perceived shortcomings with the district’s, including youth-led information, background on the police department consent decree and reports from civil rights groups.

If a council lacks a quorum, CPS is still asking them vote on a recommendation, but the principal and network chief will make a final decision. Schools with appointed, rather than elected, LSCs will still vote — a departure from last year when the district didn’t give them explicit directions to vote on the matter of officers.

Though many local school councils have not been regularly posting meeting agendas or minutes online, they aren’t required to under the Open Meeting Act, as long as agendas are physically posted at the school and minutes made available for review.

Regardless, CPS officials said schools that don’t post those documents online aren’t following best practices for transparency. The training guide for LSCs states they should be posted online.

At Mather High School last September, minutes show the local school council discussed “a changing role of the police officers that have been assigned to our school.”

“We need to take a vote whether or not to continue with the SRO’s,” one member said, according to the minutes. “They have been more of a presence outside of our building around the perimeter. They have assisted information with what our school is allowed to do within the law.”

Another member said there is “a real terror” among the school’s immigrant and refugee populations when they see uniformed officers. Another said students “don’t really notice” police presence but are glad to know they’re around. No vote was noted in the minutes.

CPS officials said while the council did not record a vote, the principal and LSC members “indicated consensus” during its meeting.

The local schools council were due to have elections this past spring, but those were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic that shut down all schools in the state.

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