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CPS board votes to keep police in schools despite student protests

Chicago police officers will remain stationed at 55 of Chicago’s public schools despite protests from students and community activists.

Students demand cops be removed from schools during a protest outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters during a Board of Education meeting Wednesday.
James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Chicago’s school board voted Wednesday to renew its contract with the Chicago Police Department for one year despite the demands of Black students who said they’ve felt unsafe learning amid a police presence.

The decision marked the culmination for the foreseeable future of a tumultuous year of fierce protests that picked up last fall and rose to a weekly occurrence this summer. When the Chicago Board of Education elected not to terminate the police contract in a split vote in June, activists’ hopes remained alive knowing another vote was coming later in the summer.

After Wednesday’s vote, the issue is unlikely to come before the board again in the coming months.

For at least the next year, CPS will operate with a revised, significantly cheaper police contract, this time worth $12.1 million instead of $33 million, that includes for the first time a detailed job description for school cops and softens the contract language to remove heavily scrutinized, military-style wording that previously described officers’ school jobs as “tours of duty.”

The agreement pays the full salary and benefits for police officers working in schools and their sergeants but could end up costing CPS no money if the entire school year is held remotely.

The contract comes with clearer guidelines touted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot as “major reforms.” Officers cannot intervene in school discipline, can no longer enter student information into CPD’s controversial gang database, should serve as a “role model in the students’ environment” and will undergo further training on dealing with children of various backgrounds.

The city also vowed to put officers through enhanced training and implement more selective requirements for cops to work in schools, including choosing officers with “excellent” disciplinary histories, which weren’t previously required.

Board of Ed. President Miguel del Valle, Vice President Sendhil Revuluri and members Lucino Sotelo and Dwayne Truss voted in favor of the contract. Elizabeth Todd-Breland and Amy Rome voted against. Luisiana Melendez abstained.

The Board of Education meets virtually for its monthly meeting.
The Board of Education meets virtually for its monthly meeting.
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Youth activists held a demonstration outside CPS’ downtown headquarters during the entire seven-hour virtual meeting. Students had also protested outside the homes of Revuluri and Truss last week, urging them to change their minds, and two students were among 13 arrested at a demonstration outside CPS’ downtown headquarters this week.

Many Black students and activists have said the money spent on policing, even reduced by more than half, would be better used for counselors, social workers and other resources.

The board’s refusal to remove uniformed police officers from all schools grants the wishes of Lightfoot and CPS leadership but thwarts the efforts of activists and students. Lightfoot and her schools chief, CPS CEO Janice Jackson, have been loath to issue a blanket removal of cops from CPS, arguing instead that each school community best knows its needs.

After votes in recent weeks by dozens of Local School Councils, 17 schools have chosen to remove their officers and 55 have decided to keep theirs. Schools that kicked out their police will not be allowed to keep that money for other programs.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said after the vote the district is “grateful that the board has honored” the LSC decisions.

Revuluri was the potential swing vote that could have swayed the decision. In June, he appeared on the fence until moments before the vote that ultimately kept the contract intact.

On Wednesday, he said the revised police contract was better than its predecessor but still had holes and that he personally wouldn’t vote to put officers in his children’s school if he served on an LSC. Yet he voted for the contract anyway, he said, because he doesn’t believe feasible school safety alternatives have been identified that don’t include police.

Revuluri submitted a resolution that compels Jackson to provide to the board by March 24 a list of alternatives to the School Resource Officer, or SRO, program for schools to choose from for the next academic year.

The resolution passed with the approval of the same members as the contract vote. It creates no guarantee officers would be removed from schools and doesn’t take the decision out of the hands of LSCs.

Todd-Breland, who has advocated for the removal of police from schools for months, had urged her fellow members ahead of the vote to listen to the concerns of Black students and the data and research that shows stark racial disparities in school policing.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that even as interactions with police have dropped, CPS students who attend a high school with a police officer stationed inside are four times more likely to have the police called on them than kids at high schools that don’t have in-house cops. And at high schools with police officers inside, cops intervene more frequently at schools with majority-Black student populations than those where Black students are a minority, the Sun-Times found in its analysis, among several other takeaways.

“Because of these individual LSC votes, Black students, the students already disproportionately harmed by police, will have SROs in schools at significantly higher rates than other schools in the district,” Todd-Breland said. “We cannot solve a system-wide civil rights issue by shirking our responsibilities as a board and pushing it onto the backs of individual schools.

“I ask this body, the Board of Education, what is your threshold for police harm? And when will enough be enough?”

Todd-Breland and Rome, the other board member against the police contract, offered direct criticisms of Lightfoot, who appointed both to their positions and still holds mayoral control over the board.

Todd-Breland said “in a city that greets our children with raised bridges and riot gear, our students lead with joy and they dream a better future.” Rome said it was a “mistake” for the mayor and CPS to leave the decision to LSCs.

Protestors dance during a protest
During a protest, members of Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR) and Pilsen Alliance (PA) - plus former and current students - dance in front of Chicago Board of Education Vice President Sendhil Revuluri’s home near 18th and Morgan in Pilsen, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times