1/3 of Taft teachers sign statement supporting Black Lives Matter, no police at school
by BRIAN NADIG
About one third of Taft High School teachers have signed a statement in support of the "movement to dismantle systems of oppression" and removing uniformed police officers form the school’s varsity and freshman campuses.
Teacher Bryan Wilson read the statement at the June 9 virtual meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council. Last year the LSC voted to keep two school resource officers or SROs at each campus, but it is not known if the school system will ask high school councils to take a similar vote for the upcoming school year.
To date, 76 of the school’s 220 teachers signed the statement. Wilson said that more teachers would have signed but were busy with end-of-the-year school duties.
Some faculty members said that the funds used for the police could be spent on hiring more social workers and counselors.
The Chicago Public Schools reimburses the city about $33 million a year for supplying officers at about 70 high schools.
Taft has one counselor for every 400 students and one full-time and one part-time social worker.
Taft director of culture and climate Kat Hindmand said that the social workers spend about "95 percent" of their time working on individualized educational plans for the school’s special needs students, and "that leaves out all the other kids."
The officers stationed at the school are primarily there to get involved when someone is being arrested for a crime or when there has been a threat of a crime, Hindmand said.
There are no more than a couple of arrests a month at Taft, which has about 3,800 students between its two campuses, Hindmand said.
Occasionally a parent wants to press charges against a student involved in a fight, or a student is arrested for possessing enough marijuana to be considered dealing, Hindmand said. Students were once arrested for possessing small amounts of pot, but citations are now issued.
Hindmand said that the two officers assigned to the varsity campus have done a good job "walking the halls and building relationships with the students" but that those officers are not responsible for securing the school’s buildings and entrances. She said that the job falls to those filling the school’s 14.5 paid security guard positions.
In response to a question from a parent, Hindmand said that studies show that "it is rarely the SROs who stop the active shooter" and that in an emergency police can be at Taft in 2 minutes.
After the meeting, Taft principal Mark Grishaber expressed concern that there would be no guarantee Taft would receive additional resources if the officers were taken away.
Grishaber said that any savings from eliminating or scaling back the SRO program citywide may be split among all elementary and secondary schools not just the high schools which have the officers. He said that Taft needs more social workers and nurses and that he would like to see an agreement to fund more of those positions if the SRO program were dropped.
"Right now I like our police officers in our building," Grishaber said, adding that he has not heard an outcry from students to get rid of the officers.
The officers have had a lot of positive interaction with the students, Grishaber said. "In my day they called it ‘Officer Friendly.’"
In recent weeks there have been protests throughout the city calling for the removal of police officers from Chicago schools. A group of aldermen plan to introduce an ordinance calling for the city to end its contract with CPS for the police officers, although Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said that the police are needed to help keep schools safe.
The following is the statement signed by Taft teachers:
"The teachers and staff at Taft High School believe that Black Lives Matter and we stand in solidarity with the movement to dismantle systems of oppression. The mission and vision of our school is ‘Educating Global Citizens To Create a Better World,’ and we reaffirm our commitment to moving this theory into action.
"We pledge to support, listen to and learn from our black students, families and colleagues. We commit ourselves to provide curriculum and instruction that directly address systemic racism and center on the voices and experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).
"We will engage in professional development focused on what it means to be anti-racist. We are committed to creating and maintaining safe places for all our students, and we do not see a need for SROs in our school.
"We have students, families, counselors, social workers, nurses, librarians and staff that have the collective power to truly create a better world."
Taft’s disciplinary policy focuses on restorative justice, which calls for punishment such as a suspension or expulsion not to be the first option except in extreme cases. Restorative practices call for teachers and students to discuss potential or existing problems and to find ways to resolve or de-escalate an issue.