Chicago Board of Education to vote on new $10.2M school police contract

The policing program at CPS has undergone major changes the past couple of years after widespread protests called for the removal of officers from schools.

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A poster about restorative justice hangs in the hallway of Gage Park High School,

A poster about restorative justice hangs in the hallway of Gage Park High School,

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago’s Board of Education is set to decide this week whether to spend $10.2 million on a new agreement with the Chicago Police Department, keeping uniformed officers in schools that want them for at least another year.

The policing program at CPS has undergone major changes the past couple of years after widespread protests called for the removal of officers from schools — and scrutiny has subsided as that pressure led to reform.

Students and activists had long said Black and Latino children are overpoliced for routine disagreements and teenage behavior. Kids are then sent from the classroom to the criminal justice system, which research has shown leads to worse outcomes in school and in life.

Five community organizations that were part of the movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline at CPS partnered with the district to establish a process by which school communities could develop policing alternatives. The number of officers assigned to CPS schools has since been cut by more than a third, their role has been drastically scaled back, and payments from CPS to CPD have fallen from $33 million in 2020.

Nonetheless, the practice of CPS, a city agency, paying another for its services is still controversial, no matter the price. The deal covers officers’ salaries and “fringe benefits” for 176 school days. The district faced criticism in past years for funding cops’ year-round salaries.

CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus said “there have not been any discussions around having CPD fund” the program.

Meanwhile, the shift from punitive to restorative justice — away from arrests and suspensions toward conversations and peace circles — is a work in progress. The Sun-Times and WBEZ examined that ongoing work earlier this summer, with schools reporting mixed results.

Schools last year shifted $3.2 million back to policing alternatives such as deans, security guards and mental health programs, and more money is expected to be allocated for those efforts this year.

A total of 41 of CPS’ 91 schools still had cops this past school year, and their local school councils voted last month on whether to keep them in the fall. One school opted to remove both officers, while 17 will continue with two full-time cops, and 23 will only have one.

District officials are asking the Board of Education to vote at its monthly meeting Wednesday to renew the CPD contract for one year to the tune of $10,166,587. The agreement would run from the start of September through the end of August 2023, and CPS and CPD would have two one-year renewal options.

Officers will be screened for placement at schools and must have an “excellent disciplinary history.” Principals will have the right to reject an officer and ask for other candidates. And the cops must undergo CPS training on restorative practices; interaction with disabled and special education students; youth crisis intervention; implicit racial bias; and more.

Cops aren’t supposed to get involved in student discipline, according to new rules established last year. They are only meant to respond to emergency situations that put students and staff at risk, such as an active shooter incident.

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