CPS partners with 5 community groups to develop new safety alternatives to in-school officers

Chicago Public Schools has selected five community organizations to lead the development of a new “holistic” program which schools can choose to adopt next year.

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Community activists with the group Voices of Youth in Chicago Education hold signs at a rally in June outside City Hall about a Chicago City Council proposal that would have terminated a $33 million contract between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools.

Youth organizers held protests throughout the summer calling for the removal of school resource officers.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file

Chicago Public Schools have announced a plan to partner with community organizations to create new “trauma-informed safety approaches,” following a summer of student-led protests against officers in schools.

Five community organizations were selected to lead the development of the new “holistic” program, which schools will be able to adopt next year as an alternative to school resource officers, CPS announced Tuesday.

Over the past summer, youth activists called for the removal of the officers and demanded money spent on police budgets be reallocated towards counselors, social workers and other resources.

Many Black students shared they felt unsafe learning amid a police presence and a Sun-Times analysis found that CPS students who attend a high school with a police officer stationed inside are four times more likely to have the police called on them than kids at high schools without officers.

Despite these demands, Chicago’s school board voted in August to renew its one-year contract with the Chicago Police Department, but submitted alongside a resolution compelling CPS CEO Janice Jackson to create alternatives to the SRO program for the board to vote on this spring.

The organizations, chosen out of 15 applicants, for the “Whole School Safety Steering Committee,” include: Voices of Youth in Chicago Education; Mikva Challenge; Community Organizing and Family Issues; The Ark of St. Sabina; and BUILD Inc.

The groups will each receive a $30,000 stipend, funded by philanthropic organizations, for their work, CPS said.

Meyiya Coleman, a youth leader for Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, said groups like hers have spent years working toward the removal of SROs.

“It’s amazing to know that CPS wants to work with us on this, to actually figure out a way that we can find the better solutions on dealing with school safety,” Coleman said Tuesday. “Now that our board and all of CPS is willing to finally listen to young people, it’s amazing.

The committee began by working with an independent consulting firm, Embark Strategies, to design a process to best engage students, parents, principals and local school councils.

Groups will hold 10 community engagement sessions in February and from there create 5-10 recommendations for the school district to consider.

During the school budget planning season, organizations will present the Whole School Safety Plan recommendations to administrators and LSCs at the 55 schools whose local council voted to continue using SROs. Organizers like Coleman recognize there is much work ahead but remain optimistic about the real potential for change.

“We’re ready for the fight, we’re ready for the journey and our young people are as well ... to finally engage community members on what safety really looks like inside our schools,” Coleman said.

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