LO­CAL SCHOOL COUN­CILS, COPS AND CON­FU­SION

Cle­mente vote high­lights un­even role of groups which mayor, CPS have tasked with mak­ing de­ci­sions on school po­lice

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY NADER ISSA, ED­U­CA­TION RE­PORTER nissa@sun­times.com | @NaderDIssa

Many stu­dents and teach­ers at Roberto Cle­mente Com­mu­nity Academy cel­e­brated last Wed­nes­day evening when the high school’s elected gov­ern­ing body voted to re­move the Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers sta­tioned in their build­ing.

The Chicago Teach­ers Union voiced sup­port on so­cial me­dia, and ad­vo­cates of po­lice-free schools said this lat­est vic­tory could spur sim­i­lar de­ci­sions at other high schools that have cops.

But had Cle­mente’s Lo­cal School Coun­cil ac­tu­ally voted out their school of­fi­cers?

The next morn­ing, an LSC mem­ber tried to clar­ify what hap­pened a night ear­lier: The coun­cil had taken an “ad­vi­sory vote” that “was not a vote set in stone.” They would re­con­vene for a bind­ing vote at a later meet­ing af­ter tak­ing more com­mu­nity in­put.

“Please stop spec­u­lat­ing, we are try­ing to do what is best for Cle­mente stu­dents,” the LSC mem­ber wrote on so­cial me­dia.

Those con­fus­ing 24 hours for the Cle­mente school com­mu­nity — and even some LSC mem­bers who thought the vote was real — ex­poses the some­times mud­dled af­fairs of Chicago Pub­lic Schools LSCs, about 70 of which the mayor and dis­trict have now tasked with mak­ing their own mon­u­men­tal de­ci­sions on school po­lice.

Mayor Lori Light­foot and schools chief Janice Jack­son have said LSCs are the ul­ti­mate au­thor­ity on the is­sue be­cause they know best each school’s unique needs.

But more than a dozen schools where po­lice are sta­tioned ei­ther have an LSC that doesn’t have full vot­ing au­thor­ity — sev­eral coun­cils don’t have at least seven mem­bers, the num­ber needed for a quo­rum — or don’t have an LSC at all. Those schools with­out func­tion­ing LSCs are all — with the ex­cep­tion of one on the North­west Side — on the South and West Sides and serve al­most en­tirely low-in­come Black and Latino stu­dents.

Ap­a­thy has been a cen­tral theme for many LSCs soon af­ter they were cre­ated in a land­mark 1988 school re­form law that tasked them with hir­ing and eval­u­at­ing prin­ci­pals, and ap­prov­ing a school’s bud­get and ex­pen­di­tures. The first LSC elec­tion year in 1989 saw more than 17,000 can­di­dates and 312,000 vot­ers. Those num­bers dwin­dled to about half that the very next elec­tion.

In the lat­est LSC elec­tion in 2018, there were 5,000 can­di­dates city­wide and more than half of schools didn’t have enough names on the bal­lot to fill the 12 non-prin­ci­pal po­si­tions on a typ­i­cal LSC — six par­ents, two com­mu­nity mem­bers, two teach­ers and one staffer who isn’t a teacher.

LSC meet­ings at many schools also see low at­ten­dance by the pub­lic, and even find­ing out how to con­tact mem­bers of the coun­cil can be dif­fi­cult for con­stituents.

When CPS put the de­ci­sion on school po­lice in the hands of LSCs last year, the dis­trict said ev­ery one of them voted to keep their of­fi­cers. But many mem­bers across the city said they re­ceived lit­tle in­for­ma­tion and min­i­mal no­tice be­fore vot­ing.

North­side Col­lege Prepara­tory High School be­came the dis­trict’s first school last week to re­move its of­fi­cers. But even at North­side, one of the dis­trict’s most pres­ti­gious schools that has heavy par­ent and com­mu­nity in­volve­ment, the vote last year to keep the of­fi­cers was a scram­ble at best.

“We voted on it in Au­gust, and that was just a rushed vote that CPS said we had to make this de­ci­sion,” Luna John­ston, the stu­dent mem­ber of the LSC, said last week.

On Wed­nes­day, CPS plans to is­sue guide­lines for mak­ing the de­ci­sion and has a meet­ing sched­uled for LSC mem­bers across the city to dis­cuss their votes. The dis­trict has asked LSCs to vote again by Aug. 15.

The mayor and CPS’ call to leave the de­ci­sion to LSCs has also left the peo­ple call­ing for the re­moval of of­fi­cers from schools in a pe­cu­liar po­si­tion: They’re some of the same ad­vo­cates who have ar­gued for em­pow­er­ing LSCs, but they’re now say­ing this choice shouldn’t be left up to the coun­cils.

Raise Your Hand, a par­ent ad­vo­cacy group closely aligned with the teach­ers union, has been part of a so­cial me­dia cam­paign for po­lice-free schools.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Jianan Shi, re­it­er­ated Tues­day that Raise Your Hand strongly sup­ports LSCs. The group hosted work­shops in the spring to ed­u­cate par­ents and school staff about up­com­ing LSC elec­tions — which were de­layed un­til the fall be­cause of the pan­demic — and has held a dozen sup­port calls with coun­cil mem­bers since the pan­demic started.

But Shi said it’s disin­gen­u­ous to spring a ma­jor de­ci­sion on LSCs, with lit­tle sup­port, and call that em­pow­er­ment.

“LSCs could not vote out a city­wide con­tract like Ara­mark,” Shi said, com­par­ing the dis­trict’s food and cleaning con­tract to the po­lice con­tract. “This con­ver­sa­tion is not, again, about ‘we’re try­ing to es­tab­lish com­mu­nity con­trol’ or ‘we’re try­ing to em­power LSCs.”

Shi said ad­vo­cates would think dif­fer­ently if CPS al­lowed schools to keep the money used to pay po­lice once they re­moved of­fi­cers. But CPS has said it won’t.

“That ac­tu­ally gives them power,” he said.

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Roberto Cle­mente Com­mu­nity Academy, 1147 N. West­ern Ave.

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