• Ben Szalinski
    MAR 08, 2024


    Committee approves bill that could allow some CPS schools to keep police officers  

    Chicago Police officers oversee a protest. [Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago] 

    Just two weeks after the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education unanimously voted to ban police officers from CPS, a House committee advanced a measure that would put decisions about school resource officers (SRO) back in the hands of Local School Councils (LSC).  

    The House Police and Fire Committee unanimously approved HB5008 on Thursday, which would give the LSCs power to engage in contracts with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) if the members of that LSC vote to keep SROs in the school they control. LSCs are elected to represent individual schools in the CPS system.  

    “The most important thing is that the Local School Councils are elected to do what’s best for their schools,” bill sponsor Rep. Mary Gill (D-Chicago) said.   

    The CPS Board of Education, which is entirely appointed by the mayor, voted on Feb. 22 to ban Chicago Police Officers from CPS schools. The decision, which will take effect in the fall, still allows CPD to assist in emergencies and with logistical and traffic duties at the start and end of school days, but it tasks the board with creating a new safety plan for CPS schools that don’t feature sworn CPD officers.   

    The ban is supported by Mayor Brandon Johnson and stems from several years of conversations since racial unrest in 2020 sparked conversations about the role and necessity of police officers in many aspects of society, including in schools.   

    However, the board’s decision also takes power away from the LSCs. LSCs have been allowed to make decisions on their own about contracts with SROs at their individual schools. The bill passed by the committee Thursday would restore that power. The bill is an initiative of the Morgan Park High School LSC.  

    “My high school loves their police officer, wants to keep their officer, they need their officer in the school, and I would happen to agree,” Gill said.  

    Morgan Park High School LSC member and Chicago Police 22nd District Council member Carisa Parker said her LSC has already voted to keep their SRO. 

    “Contrary to what some might believe, SROs do not police our students,” Parker said. “They assist with safety management throughout the day. They’ve also served in advisory capacity to our administrators and our teachers and serve as mentors, coaches and cheerleaders for our students.” 

    In an era where school shootings are common, the role of SROs has been further scrutinized, often with examples of how a faster police response or more targeted reaction from an SRO already inside the school could’ve saved more lives. Texas lawmakers mandated armed police officers in schools after the Uvalde shooting. A Florida sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Parkland high school lost his job following the shooting for not actively attempting to take down the shooter.  

    “We are dealing with when gun violence happens on our school campuses, not if,” Parker said on the need to have an officer on school campuses immediately to avoid waiting for sometimes lengthy response times from CPD in an emergency.  

    While the full House gave a victory to Johnson and the Chicago Teachers Union on Thursday by passing a plan to implement Chicago’s elected school board, the unanimous vote from the committee could offer a setback to Johnson’s administration. 

    Parker ripped the appointed school board for their unilateral action.  

    “To have an appointed school board to make decisions without including elected governing bodies is undemocratic,” Parker said.  

    Gill’s bill is supported by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police but opposed by CPS and the teachers union.   

    “Please do not allow mayoral campaign promises to trump student safety,” Parker said.   

    Lawmakers also appear comfortable pushing back on the school board’s decision. In addition to Gill, the bill is cosponsored by several representatives representing parts of Chicago including Angie Guerrero-Cuellar, Brad Stephens, Curtis Tarver, Margaret Croke, Kelly Burke, and Mike Kelly  

    “It is an extremely important choice for each of these schools to be able to make on their own and that’s why we have the LSCs make decisions for our own schools,” Kelly, a Chicago firefighter, said.  

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