A week after it angered students, teachers and school board members with a move that appeared against the wishes of Chicago Public Schools officials, the Chicago Police Department backed off its decision Monday to keep two officers in 24 high schools that had only asked for one.
“A week ago, we communicated that CPD had directed that schools requesting one [officer] would have a temporary [officer] added to the school to support the transition back to school,” CPS chief of safety and security Jadine Chou wrote in a letter to principals and Local School Council chairpersons Monday.
“We have a new update: CPS and CPD are working together according to the” school votes, she said. “As we have previously stated, we believe that it is critical that we are honoring the process and outcomes worked by the Whole School Safety Committees and Local Councils.”
Chou had vowed to work with the police department to make sure the decision would be temporary and the extra officers would be removed as soon as possible. The issue ended up being resolved by the start of the school year.
Those 24 schools were among a few dozen that voted in the spring and summer on whether to keep both of their uniformed police officers, only retain one or remove both. Another nine chose to remove both cops, and 20 schools kept both. Last year, 17 schools voted to remove both officers, but they weren’t given money for other programs.
Those votes were part of a process CPS officials created in response to last year’s student protests against school police, who district data showed over-police Black students and children in special education compared to their peers. The district this year allowed schools to develop alternative safety plans and gave money for student support services or even a new staff position if they removed one or both cops.
CPD’s decision to initially not honor those votes was met with harsh criticism from students and teachers, and Board of Education member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said it was “deeply offensive” that the police department cited safety concerns in saying it didn’t want to send one officer alone into certain schools.
“I’m unclear what the safety concern is or who exactly armed police officers would be afraid of in our school buildings,” Elizabeth Todd-Breland said at the school board meeting.
“At this point if it’s the student body, based on where [officers] are, that’s a disproportionately Black student body located in Black communities. Are we afraid of the families in our schools? There’s no rationale. It’s not dog whistling, it’s screaming, to me.”
A committee of five advocate groups — VOYCE, The ARK of St. Sabina, Build Inc., COFI and Mikva Challenge — that have worked with CPS to help the district move away from school policing welcomed the news Monday.
“We appreciate CPS’ efforts to work with CPD to ensure that the safety plans of local schools are honored as students return to school and that they are making the necessary staffing changes,” the groups said in a statement.
“The community engagement process that school communities undertook demonstrated the desire to redefine safety through a holistic approach and these local decisions must be honored to maintain trust between local school communities and the school district.”