CPS Board of Education votes to keep CPD officers in schools despite student protests
Chicago’s school board voted Wednesday to renew its contract with the Chicago Police Department for one year, bucking the demands of Black students who say they’ve felt unsafe learning amid a police presence.
The decision marked the culmination for the foreseeable future of a tumultuous year of fierce protests that picked up last fall and rose to a weekly occurrence this summer. When the Board of Education elected not to terminate the police contract in a split vote in June, activists’ hopes remained alive knowing another vote was coming later in the summer. But after Wednesday’s vote, the issue is unlikely to come before the board again in the coming months.
For at least the next year, Chicago Public Schools will operate with a revised, significantly cheaper police contract, this time worth $12.1 million instead of $33 million, that includes for the first time a detailed job description for school cops and softens the contract language to remove heavily scrutinized, military-style wording that previously described officers’ school jobs as “tours of duty.”
The agreement pays the full salary and benefits for police officers working in schools and their sergeants, though it could end up costing CPS no money if the entire school year is held remotely.
The contract comes with clearer guidelines touted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot as “major reforms.” Officers cannot intervene in school discipline, can no longer enter student information into CPD’s controversial gang database, should serve as a “role model in the students’ environment” and will undergo further training on dealing with children of various backgrounds. The city also vowed to put officers through enhanced training and implement more selective requirements for cops to work in schools, including choosing officers with “excellent” disciplinary histories, which weren’t previously required.
Board President Miguel del Valle, Vice President Sendhil Revuluri and members Lucino Sotelo and Dwayne Truss voted in favor of the contract. Members Elizabeth Todd-Breland and Amy Rome voted against, while Luisiana Melendez abstained.
Youth activists held a demonstration outside CPS’ downtown headquarters during the entire seven-hour virtual meeting.
After votes in recent weeks by dozens of Local School Councils, 17 schools have chosen to remove their officers, and 55 have decided to keep theirs. Schools that kicked out their police will not be allowed to keep that money for other programs.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said after the vote that the district is “grateful that the board has honored” the LSC decisions.
Revuluri was the potential swing vote that could have swayed the decision. In June, he appeared on the fence until moments before the vote that ultimately kept the contract intact. On Wednesday, he said the revised police contract was better than its predecessor but still had holes, and that he personally wouldn’t vote to put officers in his children’s school if he served on an LSC. Yet he voted for the contract anyway, he said, because he doesn’t believe feasible school safety alternatives have been identified that don’t include police.
Revuluri submitted a resolution that compels Jackson to provide to the board by March 24 a list of alternatives to the School Resource Officer, or SRO, program for schools to choose from for the next academic year. The resolution passed with the approval of the same members as the contract vote.
It creates no guarantee officers would be removed from schools and doesn’t take the decision out of the hands of LSCs.
Todd-Breland, who has advocated for the removal of police from schools for months, had urged her fellow members ahead of the vote to listen to the concerns of Black students and the data and research that shows stark racial disparities in school policing.
“Because of these individual LSC votes, Black students, the students already disproportionately harmed by police, will have SROs in schools at significantly higher rates than other schools in the district,” ToddBreland said. “We cannot solve a systemwide civil rights issue by shirking our responsibilities as a board and pushing it onto the backs of individual schools.
“I ask this body, the Board of Education, what is your threshold for police harm? And when will enough be enough?”
Todd-Breland and Rome, the other board member against the police contract, offered direct criticisms of Lightfoot, who appointed both to their positions and still holds mayoral control over the board. Todd-Breland said that “in a city that greets our children with raised bridges and riot gear, our students lead with joy and they dream a better future.” Rome said it was a “mistake” for the mayor and CPS to leave the decision to LSCs.
Students demand police officers be removed from schools in a protest outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters during a Board of Education meeting Wednesday.