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Not an emergency? Don’t call cops, CPS tells administrators in new policy

Advocates for police-free schools have called for de-escalation and restorative justice in place of policing and punitive punishment that leads students into the school-to-prison pipeline.

The Students Strike Back Coalition protest to keep police officers out of schools, outside the CPS Board of Education meeting in the loop Wednesday, August 26th, 2020.
The Students Strike Back Coalition protests to keep police officers out of schools outside the CPS Board of Education last August.
James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials don’t want administrators and teachers to call the police on students in nonemergencies, and they’re advising school staff to tell children their rights before any interactions with police, according to the district’s revised code of conduct made public Monday.

The policies are the latest in a series of reforms prompted by years of student-led protests against the criminalization and police mistreatment of Black and Brown children in CPS, including intensified scrutiny in the aftermath of last summer’s racial justice protests. The CPS Board of Education will consider them at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Wednesday.

Advocates for police-free schools have called for de-escalation and restorative justice in place of policing and punitive punishment that can put students into the school-to-prison pipeline. Dozens of schools are voting over the next few weeks on whether to remove their school officers and replace them with alternative safety plans.

“To prevent traumatic impacts of police arrest for children and their families, school administrators should prioritize a trauma-responsive behavioral health approach that focuses on de-escalation and restorative, mental health intervention based on student needs before considering police involvement,” the new policy read.

Moving forward, the code of conduct only allows school staff to call the police — including officers stationed in a school — in emergencies when there are “immediate threats of danger or imminent harm” that can’t otherwise be addressed. That includes use or possession of a gun or other weapon, a bomb threat, arson or a threat or act of physical violence that is “unable to be safely de-escalated by school safety officers and support staff, such as restorative practitioners or clinicians.

“In non-emergency situations, school officials must not contact CPD, including School Resource Officers (SRO), to request removal of a disruptive student from the school, including classrooms, common areas and school-sponsored events,” the policy continued.

If an administrator decides to call the police, they’ll be required to first notify the district’s central office and consider whether: the student’s behavior is related to a disability outlined in their special education plan, anyone was physically harmed and the student has any other developmental needs or trauma history. School staff has to “make all reasonable efforts” to contact a parent or guardian before calling the cops.

If an officer is going to interact with a student at school after an adult called the police, administrators will be required to let students know their rights ahead of time: They can refuse to speak to CPD, they can refuse to give consent to a search, they can’t be left alone with an officer and they can’t be removed from a common area of the school unless it’s an emergency.

Administrators will also be required to contact CPS’ central office if an officer asks to interview or question a student at the school, and they have to try to get a parent there during questioning or ensure a staff member who wasn’t part of the incident is with the student.

Arrests should be avoided on school grounds “whenever possible,” the policy said, but if an officer makes an arrest “they should coordinate with the principal or designee to find a private location out of sight and sound of other students.” In that case, a school administrator is required to accompany the student to wherever the officers is taking them. If the officer denies the administrator, the administrator is required to follow the officer and student separately.

Language that criminalizes kids, such as “criminal,” “battery,” “assault,” “burglary,” and “aggravated assault/battery” has also been removed from the student code of conduct. In some places “criminal act” was replaced with “alleged illegal behavior.”

Jasmine Roach, an incoming senior at Prosser Career Academy, said the policy is a “good start, but it’s not enough.”

“A ‘criminal act’ and an ‘illegal behavior’ is just the same thing,” Jasmine said. “You guys are still not guaranteeing that you’re not going to call the cops. You still are, you’re just taking an extra step before you do it.”

Jasmine, a leader with the advocacy group VOYCE, said it was nice to see the district start to move in the direction of taking students’ personal circumstances into consideration when dealing with incidents, but she doubted anything would change quickly. She noted that policies haven’t stopped adults from harming students in the past.

“Most of the behavior comes from trauma,” Jasmine said. “It helps the student a lot in many ways [if their trauma is considered]. It’s like a breather to them, it’s like a boulder lifted off their shoulder.

“It takes time for everything. [Administrators] just have to get used to it.”