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Progress made, slowly but thoughtfully, in taking school discipline out of the hands of cops

We urge those who agree with us — that there are better alternatives to cops in schools cracking down on 12-year-olds — to keep on pushing.

“We find it heartening that at least a small number of CPS schools have voted to remove all full-time police officers,” the Sun-Times editorial board writes, “and dozens of other schools have developed plans for alternatives to blunt police discipline.”
“We find it heartening that at least a small number of CPS schools have voted to remove all full-time police officers,” the Sun-Times editorial board writes, “and dozens of other schools have developed plans for alternatives to blunt police discipline.”
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Uniformed police officers, for a host of reasons, should not be posted in public schools.

That’s been our view for a few years now, and we’ll continue to argue the point for as long as there are cops in the halls of any Chicago public elementary or high school.

But we’d like to recognize today the progress that’s been made on this issue and the thoughtful manner in which the debate has played out, even as we urge those who agree with us — that there are better alternatives to cops cracking down on 12-year-olds — to keep on pushing.

If we know anything as an editorial board, it is that change works best from the ground up, with new ways of thinking preceding new laws and policies. This takes time. So, with that humbling thought in mind, we find it heartening that at least a small number of CPS schools in the last couple of years have voted to remove all full-time police officers and — more heartening still — dozens of other schools have developed plans for alternatives to blunt police discipline.

These schools are working to create safer student environments, physically and emotionally, whether that includes the presence of a full-time police officer or not. They are pushing the sensible stand, for example, that a student’s encounter with a police officer should rarely, if ever, lead to criminal charges and the lifelong burden of a criminal record.

That would seem to be the bare minimum for slowing our nation’s infamous, and very real, school-to-prison pipeline.

We are seeing the beginning of a healthy shift in thinking about school discipline, and advocates for removing uniformed officers from school buildings deserve much of the credit. They are being heard.

On Wednesday, as reported by Nader Issa of the Sun-Times, the Board of Education voted to renew an agreement with the Chicago Police Department to assign officers to schools — those schools that want them — at a cost of $11.1 million.

But it was a divided vote, 4 to 2, with the two dissenting board members saying they could not support any policy that allows for officers in any school. They stuck to that view even though the board also shifted $3.2 million of money previously spent on police officers to other more holistic approaches to school security, such as hiring more counselors and involving student peer groups in restorative justice programs.

Had we a vote on the board, we likely would have sided with the two dissenters, Elizabeth Todd-Breland and Luisiana Melendez. Their fundamental objection, that the presence of cops in schools every day seems to lead almost inevitably to a disproportionate policing of Black students, is true. And we, like Todd-Breland and Melendez, would have preferred a district-wide ban.

Too often, as we’ve written before, the kind of teenage misbehavior that might lead to counseling at a good suburban school is treated as a criminal matter in a city public school. This has been true particularly for Black students, who comprise only about 36% of all CPS students yet are the subject of 66% of all police notifications.

The impact is lasting. It can be devastating. A 2018 study, from the University of California at Los Angeles, found that putting police into Texas schools led to a decline in graduation and college enrollment rates.

Yet we remain optimistic. It is good news that 42 police officers, so far, have been removed from school buildings. We respect the work of those officers but believe they can be of greater service working the streets outside those schools.

And it is good news — or so we hope — that the school district’s incoming CEO, Pedro Martinez, has expressed reservations about school police.

At a recent news conference, Martinez said cops should never be used to carry out school discipline, a very welcomed view. He also said CPS should consider creating its own highly specialized police force, one that knows how to work well with children, which we find to be a less appealing idea.

We’ll take more counselors, social workers and teachers, as well as an entirely new way of thinking about school discipline, every time.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.