Taft LSC sets meeting on officers
by BRIAN NADIG
The Taft High School Local School Council is planning to hold a meeting next week on whether to keep uniformed police officers at its varsity and freshman campuses, an issue that many LSC’s are facing in the city.
The virtual meeting is scheduled to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, and information on accessing the meeting will be posted at least 48 hours in advance at www.tafthighschool.org. The council will take testimony on the issue but plans to vote at a later meeting.
Last month the Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted not to terminate its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department to provide two officers at 72 high schools. There have been protests nationwide calling for officers to be replaced at schools with more counselors and social workers, and the Denver and Minneapolis school districts recently got rid of their school resource officer programs.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said LSCs should make the final determination on whether to have police officers. Last year no councils reportedly voted to remove their officers, but the council at Northside College Prep High School recently became the first one to vote against having SROs at its school this fall. Lane Tech Prep High School was also supposed to set a date for a vote this week.
At the end of last school year, 85 of Taft’s approximately 220 teachers responded to a survey that included a statement in support of Black Lives Matter and the replacement of the SROs with counselors and social workers, according to teacher Bryan Wilson.
Seventy-six teachers responded "yes" to the statement and nine answered "no," Wilson said. A group of teachers created the survey, and the response rate was similar to surveys sent to teachers on other matters, he said.
Taft has one counselor for every 400 students and one full-time and one part-time social worker for the entire school, whose total enrollment between the two campuses is about 3,800 students.
In addition, some students sent e-mail messages to school administrators. One e-mail-states that removing the police from schools "will reduce tensions that exist between our youth and law enforcement" in the country and that "police presence in schools reflects an American problem of investing in the criminal and juvenile justice system instead of schools and students."
Last school year Taft had two police officers assigned to each of its two campuses. The school also has 14.5 paid security guard positions.
According to administrators, the school has no more than a couple arrests a month and on the varsity campus the police officers often walk the hallways and interact positively with students.
In a recent e-mail to the faculty, Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that the school has not received any complaints about its current team of SROs and that the officers are chosen by a joint agreement between the principal and the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District commander. He said that the new selection policy took effect last school year, compared to the past when principals had "no voice."
"When I first started at Taft 6 years ago, there were complaints, but since the advent and adoption of restorative practices (at Taft) I have not had any complaints. I recently contacted Jadine Chou, chief safety and security officer at CPS, and told her CPS should use our SROs as role models for the rest of the district. I did not want her to take them from us but use them as a resource to talk to all new SROs before they enter a school," Grishaber wrote.
In an interview Grishaber said that he would abide by whatever decision the LSC makes regarding the SROs but said that there is no guarantee that the funds allocated for the officers would be reassigned for more counselors at Taft, adding that the officers are not funded through Taft’s budget.
The school will be asking parents, staff members and students to respond to a survey on SROs prior to the July 21 LSC meeting, Grishaber said.
In related news, Taft recently posted the following statement on its Web site: "Black Lives Matter. Taft High School’s mission and vision statement is ‘Educate Global Citizens to Create a Better World.’ The responsibility to create a better word requires explicit support and allyship. We stand as allies with our Black students, staff and community members. We are committed to listening, learning and engaging the entire Taft community to fulfill our mission and vision."
Taft’s racial makeup consists of about 46 percent White students and 54 minority students, including 40 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 3 percent Black. The school had a large Black enrollment in the 1980s and 1990s, but the school’s racial breakdown shifted as the school’s local enrollment made significant gains in the 2000s.