A Northwest Side school has elected to remove two police officers stationed in its building in a first-of-its-kind vote that offers a potential preview of dozens more similar decisions likely to be considered in the coming weeks.
The Chicago police officers at Northside College Preparatory High School will be kicked out this fall after the school’s elected body of parents, teachers and community members, along with a lone student, voted unanimously Tuesday evening to make the change.
The decision makes Northside’s Local School Council the first to yank its officers as debates rage in the City Council and among the Board of Education over whether to terminate a $33 million contract between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department. There are about 200 officers at 73 public schools currently in the program.
Luna Johnston, the student member of Northside’s LSC, said Wednesday she was inspired by students, alumni and teachers who pushed in recent weeks for officers to be removed.
“With the student push that we had and all the statistics that we have on CPS SROs, I think that we made the right decision,” Johnston, a 17-year-old rising senior, said. “It’s not only huge because it’s having an impact on students’ daily lives, but it’s setting the tone for what we care about as a school.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS officials, including Janice Jackson, the district’s chief executive, have argued against a blanket removal of officers from schools. Instead, they have said they would rather leave the choice up to LSCs, saying each individual school has its own needs.
CPS put that decision in the hands of LSCs ahead of last school year. Not a single LSC voted to remove its officers a year ago, but many members across the city said they received little information and minimal notice before voting.
“We voted on it in August, and that was just a rushed vote that CPS said we had to make this decision,” Johnston said. “We voted to keep our SROs just because we knew our SROs and we didn’t have any personal issues with them. But we didn’t really understand what their job was and really we voted conditionally in hopes that CPS would add training.”
Only schools that have officers are being asked to vote on whether to keep them; schools without cops aren’t being asked whether they want to add police. In all, 72 of 93 district-run high schools have officers, and one of 43 charter high schools has an officer.
CPS is asking all LSCs with cops in their schools to vote by Aug. 15 on whether to remove them. The district is handing out an information packet next week to help members better understand the issue.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday said she was neither surprised nor disappointed by the Northside LSC vote.
“The whole point is, those decisions should be made by the Local School Council,” Lightfoot told reporters at an unrelated event at Buckingham Fountain. “They shouldn’t be made by the mayor. They shouldn’t be made by the Board of Education.”
LSCs are “empowered” to “make the decision that is in the best interest of their particular schools,” the mayor said. “That’s what this discussion should be about: Making sure that the people who are closest to it — who know what the individual school environment is like in conversation with parents, teachers and other stakeholders.”
Students and activists have fought for years for police-free schools, saying Black and Brown students face disproportionately harsh treatment by officers who turn typical childhood behavior into a criminal record — causing the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Northside, one of the district’s highest-rated and most prestigious schools, is disproportionately white compared to the rest of CPS. In a district that’s 10.8% white, 35.9% Black and 46.6% Latino, 31% of Northside’s students are white, 30.5% are Latino, 19.2% are Asian and 5.8% are Black.
A police officer was only called to intervene in one incident at the school throughout the 2018-19 school year, the latest with data available, according to CPS records.
The movement to remove officers took a hit at the end of last month when Lightfoot’s handpicked school board, in a 4-3 vote, decided against ending the district’s contract with CPD. The agreement is set to expire at the end of August, however, meaning another vote is likely this month or the next.
CPS Alumni for Abolition, a group that has advocated for police-free schools along with several other organizations in recent weeks, declared the vote a victory for students.
“This vote is a meaningful step for both the students of Northside College Prep and for the district as a whole, who have continuously demonstrated their desire to attend schools that make them feel welcome and safe,” the group said in a statement, adding the vote could set a precedent for other LSCs in the coming weeks.