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Debate over cops in schools to get City Council hearing

Ald. Chris Taliaferro said Thursday’s hearing is an opportunity to make the case to keep the final decision where both he and the mayor believe it belongs: in the hands of local school councils.

Youth activists staged a teach-in outside Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle’s home in Belmont Cragin last week as the board met and voted to keep its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department, leaving it up to individual Local School Councils to decide if they want officers in their individual schools.
Youth activists staged a teach-in outside Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle’s home in Belmont Cragin last week as the board met and voted to keep its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department, leaving it up to individual Local School Councils to decide if they want officers in their individual schools.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

One week after Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handpicked school board narrowly defeated a plan to yank Chicago police officers out of public schools, the political hot potato has landed in a joint City Council committee.

Education Committee Chairman Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) will hold a virtual subject matter hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday on changes made in the school resource officer program to correct “deficiencies” identified by Inspector General Joe Ferguson in a 2018 audit of the program.

In a follow-up report last summer, Ferguson accused the Chicago Police Department of ignoring four of his five recommendations.

“If there was a sense of urgency, this would have been done by now,” the inspector general said then.

Since then, major changes have been made. School resource officers no longer are allowed to intervene in student discipline. CPD is required to give Chicago Public Schools a monthly report on arrests made on school grounds. If a principal, teacher or other CPS employee improperly asks an officer to get involved with school discipline, the officer is required to report that to a supervisor.

Officers now need at least three years of experience on the force to work in a school and must undergo thorough, school-specific training that includes de-escalation, building relationships with kids, implicit racial bias and how to deal with students with disabilities, in special ed and those who are LBGTQ.

All that is outlined in an August 2019 agreement between the CPD and CPS that expires next month.

That’s apparently why Taliaferro views the hearing Thursday as an opportunity to make the case to keep the final decision on the matter of cops in schools where he and Lightfoot believe it belongs: in the hands of local school councils.

“Our schools on the West Side are asking that the police remain on campus,’’ Taliaferro said Monday. ‘‘There’s a sense of safety and security. That has to be our first priority. That puts them in an environment that’s conducive to learning. If a student is worried about whether bullying will go to the next level and turn into violence, they are less likely to go to school. Or gang altercations move from the streets to the school.

“In some neighborhoods, that’s the only place where they have a refuge from street violence. If we take `em out, bullying is not gonna stop. Gang disputes are not gonna stop.”

The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has fueled a nationwide movement to “defund” local police departments and divert the money to mental health and other social services. Several major cities have responded by yanking police officers out of public schools.

Last week, Lightfoot dodged what would have been a major political embarrassment when the school board voted 4-3 not to cancel the $33 million contract with the CPD.

Taliaferro said his goal is to air “the entire picture,’’ not just one side of the heated political controversy, before the school board votes again on whether to renew the contract.

“Don’t use your influence over a child to pull them into your argument without presenting them with both sides of the argument,’’ he said. ‘‘Let them make their own decision as to whether or not they feel they are safe. Some of them have experienced negative police interactions. They will form their opinions based on their interactions.

“I look at things from a very realistic view and try to prevent any type of school shootings or active shootings that may occur on one of our campuses. We’ve had . . . hundreds within the United States over the last two decades. If we say that Chicago has not had a significant number, that’s because school resource officers are there as part of a preventive measure.”

Scott said he does not believe there are 26 votes in the City Council to terminate the $33 million contract.

“At Frazier Elementary right in the heart of my community, they have public safety issues all the time,’’ Scott said. ‘‘They asked me for more officers in their school as opposed to less. How do I look a parent in their face when they’re afraid to send their child to school — a place that should be a safe haven — and we’re not able to protect them?

“I am dead-set against saying to that parent, `We’ve got to figure out a way to fend [for ourselves].’ ’’

Contributing: Nader Issa