Despite student murders, Benito Juarez high shouldn’t bring cops back, students and staff tell LSC

Most of those who spoke at an emergency meeting Thursday night said having police officers patrol campus will not make the school safer after CPS students Nathan Billegas, 14, and Brandon Perez, 15, were killed last Friday as classes let out.

SHARE Despite student murders, Benito Juarez high shouldn’t bring cops back, students and staff tell LSC
Police released images of a person they say is wanted in connection to the fatal shooting at Benito Juarez High School on Dec. 16 that killed two teens.

Police released images of a person they say is wanted in connection to the fatal shooting at Benito Juarez high school on Dec. 16 that killed two teens.

Chicago police

Despite a fatal shooting outside Benito Juarez high school in Pilsen last week, teachers, parents and students said Thursday they do not want police officers stationed inside the school, though some said they would like to see a greater security presence outside before and after school.

A special local school council meeting was held Thursday to focus on safety and security following the shooting. Much of the discussion centered on whether police officers should be brought back to Juarez. The Zoom meeting was attended by 100 people. 

In 2020, amid the national debate about police brutality, Juarez was one of the first Chicago Public Schools high schools to vote to remove both of its school resource officers. Fifty-one of CPS’ 92 high schools have since removed the officers. 

The meeting started with a moment of silence for Nathan Billegas, 14, and Brandon Perez, 15, the two teens killed on Juarez’s school grounds. Two other teenagers were injured. 

Almost all of the teachers, parents and students who spoke at the meeting said police are not the answer to greater safety. 

One student said she did not feel as though the school had a legitimate safety plan in place. She said that on Friday afternoon before the shooting, she only saw one staff member outside trying to get students to clear the campus. Still, she said she doesn’t want to see a huge increase in security officers or police. 

“Having more security guards and surveillance on the students won’t do anything but criminalize them,” she said. “We have five security guards, and they weren’t able to prevent what went down on Friday because the key to prevention isn’t policing. It’s listening to the youth to have a restorative justice plan.”

Several teachers spoke, urging the LSC not to be reactionary and bring back the school resource officers. Teacher Liz Winfield said she has been at the school since 1998 and school police did not deter criminal activity. 

“I feel like in the past our SROs have created, maybe not on purpose, but the end result was they created an environment where students felt unsafe,” she said. “They felt criminalized, and they felt like it was not a conducive environment to learning.” 

Teacher Daniel Michmerhuizen said that since the shooting, the community has really shown up for the students. Every day, students have been greeted with hot chocolate and doughnuts. He said ongoing support from the community will do more for students than police. 

“Watching the kids’ faces this week was amazing,” he said. “I wish that we didn’t have to have a tragedy to have that kind of community to support. Kids felt valued. The kids felt like adults had their back.”

Ronan Shableski, CPS deputy chief of safety and security, addressed the meeting, but he did not speak about the role of police. He dispelled some rumors, saying there was no evidence the shooter was an active Juarez student or that the shooter or the gun was ever inside the school. Shableski also said CPS believes the school’s safety plan is adequate, but the district will prioritize a review of the plan and the schools’ safety technology. 

Local school council members did not take any official votes on safety or security measures at the meeting. They went into closed session to discuss safety and security, though it was unclear whether the subject met the conditions for a closed session. CPS did not respond to questions about why the subject warranted a closed meeting. 

Local school council members said they plan to hold meetings to get more feedback from students and others on what the safety response should be. 

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ.

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