Chicago public schools vote to keep or remove SROs

Most of the schools that have voted so far have decided to keep at least one school resource officer, according to education officials


By Tracy Swartz
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Jones College Prep is one of a few Chicago high schools that have opted not to have police officers stationed on campus in the fall.

More than 50 Chicago schools have until Wednesday to decide if they want to continue in the controversial school resource officer program. Local School Councils can choose to keep the two officers assigned to their respective schools, remove them or, in an option newly available this year, retain just one officer.

Most of the schools that have voted so far this summer have decided to keep at least one school resource officer, according to the Chicago Public Schools website. Some schools are scheduled to debate the issue Tuesday or Wednesday. At least five schools — Jones, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, Lake View High School, Solorio Academy High School and Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center — chose to nix school police.

“It seems like a push to keep the SROs at Jones was really about monitoring what’s happening outside the school, around the building. I think it’s pretty inappropriate to ask schools to fund the Chicago Police Department in monitoring the physical safety of the South Loop,” said Local School Council chairperson Cassie Creswell, a parent representative since January.

“That shouldn’t come out of our school budget when we don’t have a full-time social worker. We don’t have a full-time nurse. We don’t have a full-time school psychologist. Our counselors actually need more support. Those are the real needs to make the students feel safe in school.”

Jones was one of 55 schools that opted to stay in the SRO program last summer. It was a narrow vote, and Creswell said the Local School Council has experienced significant turnover since then. Seventeen schools, including Lane Tech College Prep and Lincoln Park High School, chose last year to opt out. The votes took place as the nation underwent a racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Activists say the school officer program disproportionately affects Black students, and money should be used on mental and behavioral health services instead.

[LISTEN: Why we should not remove SROs from our schools]

The Board of Education voted in August 2020 to renew its contract with CPD for up to $12.1 million, down from the $33 million deal for the prior year. At the time, the board adopted a resolution that called for an “inclusive, thoughtful and expeditious process to develop and implement alternative systems of safety for CPS students.”

Changes to the program were enacted in the fall including barring school officers from entering student information into the Police Department’s “criminal enterprise information system,” the latest iteration of the gang database. Complaints against police officers in schools were to be referred to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability for investigation. In the meantime, CPS said it worked with five community groups to devise recommendations for a “more holistic approach” to school safety.

School safety committees were tasked with reviewing these suggestions before establishing a “Whole School Safety Plan” that outlines their school’s strategies to create an environment of physical and emotional safety, including their recommendation on the SRO program. The plan and SRO vote can be revisited each year, but if schools remove an officer, they will not be able to restore the position in the future.

If a school dismisses one or both officers, the safety plan can explore alternate resources worth up to $50,000 per SRO, with larger requests to be considered based on an “equity index,” CPS said. Creswell said Jones’ council is considering an idea to add security guards — which she has concerns about — but the school’s safety plan had not been finalized as of press time.

When CPS high schools reopened in April after the pandemic shutdown of more than a year, the SRO program was paused.

The cost of the district’s contract with CPD for the upcoming school year will be determined based on the outcome of the Local School Council votes, a CPS official said. Those results are to be presented to the Chicago Board of Education in August.

Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School — located on the West Side in the South Austin neighborhood, a community that has long struggled with gang violence and street crime — voted this year to keep both officers after gathering input from some students, council member Bernard M. Clay said.

“The SROs at the school, plus the staff, work if a student has a beef with another student. The SROs and the staff are there to minimize that, so it doesn’t develop into something further. It’s to protect the students that are there,” Clay said. “We looked at what we had and what we were pretty satisfied with, and we decided to stick with that.”

[READ: This school resource officer and Olympic athlete has her sights on Tokyo]

At North-Grand High School in the Hermosa area of the Northwest Side, 84% of surveyed students said the school should not remove both officers, with 60% saying having an officer in the building makes them feel safer, according to a recent virtual presentation to the Local School Council as it considered a plan to keep one officer.

“The way we use the SRO most is as a direct line, if a child needs an ambulance or if something happens in the community” near the school, Principal Emily Feltes said. “In the five years that I’ve been here, there’s been very few, limited instances where the SROs even get involved in discipline.”

©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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