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EDITORIAL: The latest evidence against police in Chicago schools

Chicago Public Schools need more strategies that don’t rely on handcuffs, Tasers and arrests to manage student misbehavior.

Four Dodge Caravans were stolen on the South Side in June.
A Chicago Police badge.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

For years, lots of outspoken education activists in town have called for the city to get police out of public schools.

Instead of cops, they insist, schools need more social workers to help traumatized kids who misbehave, more peer juries to resolve conflict peacefully, more activities to keep students engaged and out of trouble.

Besides, they add, it sends a negative message to students when the district spends millions on police while many schools have no science lab and are short on up-to-date textbooks.

“Some officers just sit at a table in the hallway all day and do nothing,” Olivia Abrecht of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council told us. “Having to pass someone everyday who has a gun and the power to arrest you, that changes how you feel about school.”

We agree. And several months ago, we made the argument that Chicago Public Schools should be bold and put its money behind strategies that don’t rely on handcuffs, Tasers and arrests to manage misbehavior.

As long as armed officers remain in schools, without training in how to work with sometimes troubled youth, CPS risks a repeat of what happened at Marshall High School back in January. Two officers at the West Side school dragged an unruly teenage girl down a flight of stairs, then punched her and used a Taser on her, as video obtained by the Sun-Times showed. The city now faces a federal lawsuit over the incident.

Another piece of evidence to bolster the arguments against in-school policing emerged last week, in a report from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson. Ferguson sharply criticized the inadequate training and oversight of the school resource officer program — and he said much the same in another report last year.

Most critically, as the report states, CPS and the Chicago Police Department are now late — by a whole school year — in hammering out a memorandum of understanding “to govern the placement and operation” of police in schools.

In other words, CPS and CPD still haven’t figured out what police are supposed to be doing in schools.

Expect to hear more on the issue over the summer. To his credit, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, has promised to hold hearings on the matter in July.

We still believe it’s imperative for police to patrol outside schools, especially in tough communities plagued by crime, to be nearby in an emergency and ensure that students and school staff are safe. We also favor metal detectors for schools that opt to have them, to deter students from bringing guns and other weapons into the building.

But target the $20 million per year that CPS spends on in-school police elsewhere.

Start with social workers and counselors, who are woefully absent in most schools. That’s especially true in schools in impoverished neighborhoods that are more likely to have a police presence.

Children and teens in rough neighborhoods could use an understanding adult to talk to at school. Maybe they lost a friend to gun violence over the weekend, or are homeless because a parent lost a job. School social workers are trained to deal with traumatized young people. Police are not.

After that, spend money to train teachers and other school employees in restorative justice practices, like overseeing peer juries and “peace rooms” where disputes can be resolved. More programs for social and emotional learning would help too, by teaching students how to cope with anger and other emotions without lashing out.

Abrecht’s organization works with lots of schools, so it’s worth giving her the last word: “We believe if we invest in an approach that addresses student needs, if we have schools that are welcoming and where students can thrive, that it will work.”

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