CPS approves new rules for cops in schools, but concern over ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ remains

“The truth is, having police officers in school doesn’t necessarily mean being safe,” said student Brenda Leyva.

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CPS students hold a press conference Wednesday protesting the presence of police in schools.

Nader Issa/Sun-Times

An agreement that set new ground rules for officers working in Chicago Public Schools was approved Wednesday despite months of public scrutiny and heavy criticism from students and one school board member who voted against the measure.

The plan, known as an intergovernmental agreement, laid out which scenarios should — and which should not — involve Chicago police officers stationed in schools, how the officers are selected for different schools and how a school can remove its officers.

The new rules came after 19 community meetings held at the end of this past school year and over the summer in which CPS and CPD representatives heard concerns and suggestions for reform.

The plan passed 5-1 at the Board of Education’s monthly meeting, but hours earlier a dozen students stood outside CPS headquarters downtown and urged the school district to keep officers out of schools.

“The truth is, having police officers in school doesn’t necessarily mean being safe,” said Brenda Leyva, the student representative on the local school council at Roosevelt High School in Albany Park.

Later that morning, Leyva and others with the student-led social justice group Voices of Youth in Chicago Education addressed the school board.

Eve Stiles, a transgender woman who is undocumented, graduated from a CPS high school in 2017 and said school resource officers (SROs) have no idea how to deal with students like her.

“Beyond seeking for SROs to be educated in the trans and undocumented communities, I’m looking for accountability,” Stiles said. “I’m not looking for pity, I’m looking for adults who are listening and are willing to make a change. When I was sharing my experience in these meetings, I was told by officers who were facilitating that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Among the many concerns about having officers in schools is that cops are contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline that could result in students, disproportionately students of color, ending up with criminal records after infractions that should be resolved through routine discipline.

CPS’ head of safety and security, Jadine Chou, told the school board that some of the district’s reforms to the system have worked. She pointed to improvements between 2012-13 and 2017-18, when there were 77% drops in expulsions and out-of-school suspensions of African-American boys and a 43% reduction in incidents involving African-Americans where CPD was called.

Chou said that going forward, police officers should only be involved in a school incident when a crime has been committed, or when there’s a serious or imminent threat, usually involving a weapon.

Chou said local school councils at schools that currently have CPD officers were asked this month to vote whether to keep them or kick them out, and all 72 voted to keep them. She acknowledged concerns, however, that the process moved too quickly and that some LSCs wanted to vote again this fall. She also said it was “disappointing” to hear the frustration shared by students earlier in the meeting.

She acknowledged that “some people felt like they wanted more time” to decide on whether to keep the officers, but she said the councils were asked to vote so school could start as scheduled next week, but that the district still planned “ongoing dialogues” on the issue.

The board member who rejected the agreement, University of Illinois at Chicago history professor Elizabeth Todd-Breland, said research shows cops in schools can have a negative influence on some students.

“As a former LSC member myself in addition to being a parent, I’m very empathetic to the concerns of LSCs,” Todd-Breland said. “But I’m also a researcher, and the research is overwhelming that having police presence in schools in fact contributes and is the entry point, often, to the school-to-prison pipeline — and particularly for black students, Latinx students and our students with disabilities. It’s both academic research but also juvenile court judges say this.”


Students protest police in schools.

Pat Nabong/For the Sun-Times

Todd-Breland said she wanted to make sure a discussion was taking place to inform schools of their safety alternatives that didn’t involve cops. But in reading the summary of those meetings, she said it seemed like the topics that were discussed “in some ways all kind of presume the continued presence of SROs.”

“So I was wondering if, as part of these sessions, if you provided any information in that particular context about alternatives to SROs or procedures to remove SROs if and when schools decide to do so,” Todd-Breland said.

“The short answer is yes,” Chou answered before going on to explain that the meeting style placed groups of people at various tables with CPS and CPD representatives to discuss topics they were interested in, a method meant to create a safe space for people to share their thoughts. She said that at various meetings, there were tables to discuss alternatives to having school resource officers.

But in at least one meeting, that wasn’t the case.

At a July 20 meeting at the Hamilton Park Cultural Center in Englewood, a police academy trainer stopped the session, saying he wanted to clarify that the meeting was about improving services provided by school resource officers, not about removing them.

“If you have an opinion as to whether officers should be in the schools, that’s something for your LSCs and principals. Today, we’re talking about the role and the criteria and the training and all of that stuff for officers who will be in schools,” he said.

He added: ”So this is more to talk about officers that are going to be in the schools, not about whether or not they should be in the schools.”

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