CPS board to vote on whether to terminate police contract this week

It’s unclear if enough board members will support the proposal for it to succeed. A majority of the seven-member board would need to vote for the resolution for it to pass.

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Protestors hold a banner that reads “Fund Black Futures” on East 63rd Street in Woodlawn during a June 14, 2020, demonstration against police officers in schools.

Protesters hold a banner that reads “Fund Black Futures” on East 63rd Street in Woodlawn, Chicago, on Sunday, June 14, 2020, in a demonstration against police officers in schools.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times file

Chicago’s school board will decide this week whether to terminate a $33 million contract between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department, effectively kicking officers out of schools and conceding a change activists have demanded for years.

The board’s move to end the agreement comes in stark opposition to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS administrators’ stance against a blanket removal of police from schools, a position officials reaffirmed shortly after the board’s proposal became public Monday morning.

The board has the authority to make the decision itself, without the approval of either the mayor or CPS, but it’s unclear if there are enough votes for the proposal to succeed — a majority of the seven-member board would need to vote in favor of the resolution for it to pass.

Members Elizabeth Todd-Breland and Amy Rome, according to sources, are nonetheless the ones leading the charge to end the contract that was approved in August and placed more than 200 officers in about 70 schools. Two motions are set to be voted on at Wednesday’s monthly Board of Education meeting: One to terminate the agreement and the second to consider alternative options for school safety.

The motion to end the CPD contract says “there is a well-documented history of police misconduct, abuse, violence and disregard of human dignity and Black life,” which goes in “direct conflict with the values of the district.”

“National and local research consistently demonstrates that the presence of police in schools serves as an entry point to the school-to-prison pipeline and disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous and Latinx students; students with disabilities; and students in need who are furthest from opportunity,” the motion reads.

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The proposals set up a potentially embarrassing vote for Lightfoot, who hand-selected the members of this school board when she first took office. Though Chicago’s school board has historically acted as a rubber-stamp for the wishes of CPS administrators and the mayor, this could be its first significant challenge to officials in years.

Lightfoot has said she would rather keep the decision about school cops in the hands of Local School Councils, which were given the power this past school year to decide whether police should remain stationed in their schools. Not a single LSC voted to get rid of its officers, but LSC members around the city complained about short notice before the vote and a lack of information on the issue. The councils are made up of elected parents, teachers and community members.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson doubled down at a press conference Monday morning, saying, “The purpose of today’s conference is to clearly state where the district is: We think we have a strong process in place that prioritizes the democratic process.”

Jackson said the district would provide additional resources for LSCs weighing whether to keep their officers and would support their decisions either way. CPS was also working to put more restrictive requirements in place for officers with misconduct complaints, she said.

Jackson was joined at the news conference by three principals — one white principal at a North Side school with few Black students, and two Black principals at schools on the West Side and Far South Side with almost entirely Black student populations — who support the continued presence of police in their buildings. They said the officers in their schools are good role models for their students and keep kids safe from outside danger.

Jackson said board of education members “are well within their rights” to raise concerns about the contract.

But she said “we cannot be overly emotional in this decision because these decisions are life or death decisions that we’re making. It’s not just playing to the loudest group that’s saying we need to do something. ... We don’t want to just do cosmetic changes or quick changes that end up creating more problems and make our communities less safe.”

The call to remove officers from schools isn’t a new demand, though. Students and organizers have asked for police-free schools for years, and their protests, in part, have led to significant reform and a new set of rules for police in schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union, a vocal adversary to CPS and Lightfoot, pointed out in a statement Monday that LSCs don’t have the power to cancel the contract between CPS and CPD and can’t shift funds at their schools from officers to other needs.

“It’s either take the policing, or receive nothing at all,” the union said.

Todd-Breland, an associate professor in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, accounted for the lone “no” vote when the board approved the contract in August by a vote of five to one — board Vice President Sendhil Revuluri was absent and did not vote. But several board members voiced concerns about police in schools at the time.

The board was already set to vote on whether to renew its agreement with CPD, as the contract is due to expire Aug. 31.

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