School board reportedly looking into eliminating on-campus police at all Chicago high schools, taking decision away from LSCs
by BRIAN NADIG
The Chicago Board of Education reportedly is looking into removing school resource officers at high schools, abandoning the current policy of allowing local school councils to decide whether to have up to two police officers assigned to their campus.
Since 2020 SROs have been removed at many high schools, including Lane Tech and Northside Prep, following an LSC vote to do so. Meanwhile, other councils have voted to keep their SROs, which remain at Taft, Foreman and some other Northwest Side schools.
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said that two school system sources have told him that the school board could make the decision as soon as its Jan. 25 meeting, possibly opting not to renew its approximately $10 million contract with the city for police officers. He said that the new policy could take effect this fall.
“They told me there’s going to be no SROs,” as the decision is being taken out of hands of parents, teachers and students, who make up the councils, Sposato said. “So much for democracy with the decision to get rid of SROs.”
Sposato added that it is understanding some CPS officials are against eliminating SROs but that school board members support the idea.
“I’m going to go to the next school meeting and let them know this is a terrible idea,” Sposato said.
Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that he attended a virtual meeting that included two school board members and other principals and that in response to a question regarding SROs, “I was told (by the meeting’s moderator) the board had made its decision.”
Surveys of Taft parents, faculty and students have showed strong support, as high as 80 to 90 percent, for having officers assigned to the school’s varsity and freshman campuses, Grishaber said. Taft is located in the Norwood/Edison Park area, well known for its large first responder population.
Last spring LSC members praised an SRO for his response to a situation in which a parent walked into the school and tried to confront a student who was not his child.
Taft’s SROs “know half the kids by their first name” and often de-escalate problems, Grishaber said. “The SRO has been trained and knows how to deal with teens in a school community. … You can see the difference.”
Grishaber has said that he wants Taft’s SROs to interact with students on a positive level as much as possible.
“I think a blanket (SRO) policy for the entire district in terms of safety is not the best for” Taft and some other schools, Grishaber said.
If the school system wants to make safety its “number one concern,” as it offen states, local decisions on SROs along with proper training for them hopefully will continue, Grishaber said.
“You first have to have safety. People need to know we are a safe school,” Grishaber said, adding that in the past 15 years Taft’s enrollment has grown from 3,000 to more than 4,000 in large part because the community believes Taft is an overall safe school. “And now you’re messing with that formula.”
Some LSC members have said that with more than 4,200 students Taft is simply too large of a school not to have police officers on its campuses.
This school year Taft has allocated more resources to address the socio-emotional needs of students and for years it has had a disciplinary policy focused more on conflict resolution than punishment.
Critics of SROs argue that a police presence inside a school can make students uncomfortable, especially students of color, and detracts from the educational atmosphere. Concerns also have been raised that having on-campus police leads to more arrests, including situations that should have been handled differently.