Chicago aldermen to propose pulling police out of city schools

“I can get done more work so much faster than at school,” Riley Slater, 11, said about schooling at home. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jenna Schoenefeld for The Washington Post.

A group of aldermen want Chicago to follow cities like Minneapolis and Seattle and remove police officers from the city’s schools, one step in a push for broader public safety reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death last month.

They plan to introduce an ordinance at Wednesday’s city council meeting to end a $33-million contract between the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Police Department that puts officers in the city’s schools to help maintain safety and security. The measure, if approved by aldermen, would also prevent such future agreements.

Requests to remove officers aren’t new but the outrage expressed nationally since the death of Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, has invigorated the movement to eliminate systemic racism in various parts of society, including education.

“We are pushing to get CPD out of CPS,” said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a sponsor of the ordinance who also supports defunding the police department. His co-sponsors include aldermen Roderick Sawyer and Jeanette Taylor. “It’s time to move on this.”

The district lets local school councils decide whether to have the police officers, which are called school resource officers, in their schools, according to an emailed statement from CPS. For the 2019-2020 school year, 72 out of 93 district-run high schools opted to keep the officers, according to the district.

“Moving forward, we will continue to create forums for formal feedback and engagement so that we can respond to the needs of each school community,” Jadine Chou, CPS chief of safety and security, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot in recent weeks has said she doesn’t plan to remove the city’s police from schools even though other cities have taken that step. Earlier this month, the Minneapolis Board of Education voted to end the district’s contract with the police department. Schools in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle have followed.

In Los Angeles, students and activists have been rallying to end the city’s school district’s police force, a move supported by leaders of the teachers union.

The stationing of officers in U.S. schools in cities coast to coast began in earnest about 60 years ago. The practice increased over the last two decades with a string of school shootings among events that heightened concerns about school safety and bolstered the push for more officers. The recent shift in other cities has come with cries for broader systemic police reforms as Floyd’s death was followed by the fatal police shooting of a black man in Atlanta.

Many students, parents and teachers have pushed “to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline,” Ramirez-Rosa said in an interview on Tuesday.

“Our goal is to improve public safety for our children,” Ramirez-Rosa said. The tens of millions of dollars Chicago Public Schools spend on police should instead be spent on social workers, therapists, counselors and school aides who are informed about trauma and can prevent situations from escalating, according to Ramirez-Rosa, who expects the ordinance to be referred to the council’s public safety committee after it’s introduced at the meeting on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order for police reform aimed at curbing police brutality following nationwide protests. In Chicago, Lightfoot is forming a community working group to review and revise the police department’s use of force policy. CPS has started hiring a social worker and nurse in every school “to avoid needless interaction with the justice system,” according to Lightfoot.

“I support CPS’ steps, following their lengthy and deliberative process with CPD and community members over the past year, to balance serious concerns for safety in schools with the need to stem the school-to-prison pipeline that has harmed too many children in communities across the country,” Lightfoot said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

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