CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said funding for police officers in schools will be cut by more than half Wednesday, while other reforms will be put in place in response to recent protests over race and policing.
The Chicago School Board narrowly voted to keep its contract with Chicago police, but the budget for School Resource Officers (SROs) in CPS will be cut from $33 million to $15 million as part of what Lightfoot described as several “major reforms” to the program.
“I understand the concerns and questions that many have surrounding policing, particularly when it involves our youth,” Lightfoot said. “We have heard you, and we have taken major steps to respond.”
The question of whether Chicago police should be on duty inside public schools has been debated by local school councils over most of the summer, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited a national reckoning on race and policing.
As part of the protests, activists called for all officers to be removed from schools in Chicago. While the reforms do not remove SROs from the district, Lightfoot said individual schools can decide whether they should stay.
Lightfoot and Jackson also announced a wide range of reforms to how SROs will be hired, what they can do and how complaints will be handled.
Officers can only be hired as SROs if they have no excessive force allegations over the past five years, and no complaints of inappropriate verbal or physical contact with students. Principals will also help in the interview process.
“Candidates will undergo an extensive screening process ensuring their backgrounds are free of excessive force allegations and placing a premium on experiences working with young people,” Lightfoot said.
While on duty, SROs cannot cooperate with federal immigration authorities. They also will not be allowed to enter student information in the citywide “gang database” or access the database inside schools.
Lightfoot said these reforms include increased protections for undocumented students and more training for officers to recognize bias and cultural sensitivity.
CPS officials say there will also be new ways of dealing with officer complaints.
“CPS will explicitly direct all complaints against SROs to COPA, so they can be tracked, reviewed and resolved in a timely manner,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said.
Some activists say the reforms announced by CPS Wednesday don’t go far enough. Former Mather High School student Derion Smith — who pushed for the removal of police — says cops should be replaced with social workers.
“Everything they’re demanding today is good, but it’s not good enough,” Smith said. “They watch us walk through the hallways like we’re criminals, it’s painful to be inside; you don’t want to be seen like that.”
This summer, elected local school councils have been deciding whether their schools would retain or decline the presence officers. So far, 17 schools have decided they don’t want Chicago police, while 55 are keeping SROs.
On the far South Side, Morgan Park High School is keeping cops.
“Our school overwhelmingly responded with a desire to retain our SROs. Our LSC voted unanimously to keep them,” principal Femi Skanes said.
However, Mather High School in West Rogers Park and Roberto Clemente Career Academy in Humboldt Park are getting rid of them.
“We simply decided the future of Clemente did not include the police in our school, as part of our approach to student safety,” Roberto Clemente Career Academy Principal Fernando Mojica said.