Prominent Chicago high school votes down school police program. Will others follow?

Police officers who work with students could see major changes if the federal consent decree to reform the police department is approved.

In the first-ever vote of its kind, a selective Northside high school has decided to remove its school officers. 

On Tuesday night, Northside College Prep’s Local School Council, a representative body made up of parents, teachers and one student, voted — with 8 in favor, 0 opposed and 1 abstaining — to remove officers from campus this fall. Their action could be a preview for similar votes to come. 

Recent months have seen a growing youth-led movement in Chicago calling for an end to school police programs, buoyed by similar decisions in other cities spurred by nationwide protests against police violence against Black people. 

Chicago’s board of education declined last month to remove police officers from all public schools after hours of emotional debate and public comment. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson have opposed the wholesale removal of police officers from schools, saying they preferred to leave the decision to individual school councils. Critics have said not all councils have enough members to vote, are appointed instead of elected at struggling schools, and, with only one student representative, don’t have enough student voices. 

What happens next at Northside is unclear, but it could act as a blueprint for other councils, which are likely to consider the decision sometime before school starts this fall. 

After stalled efforts to end the school police agreement at the City Council and school board, Chicago youth organizers are increasingly refocusing their efforts on Local School Councils. 

Chicago Public Schools will hold the first of a bi-weekly stakeholder discussion on Local School Councils this week. Council elections, originally slated for the spring, have been postponed until the fall. 

School security chief Jadine Chou said the district is putting together an informational packet to assist councils in making decisions about school police. 

And later this summer, school board members are expected to vote on to renew the $33 million contract with the police department. At the last board meeting, a measure to terminate the contract failed to pass by a tight margin. 

In a statement, Chicago Public Schools said they supported local schools making their own decisions: “The district fully supports Northside College Prep’s decision and will work with them to develop a safety plan without SROs that meets the needs of their unique school community.”  

Two officers were stationed at Northside this past year, according to police department records. One was first admitted to a school security unit in the Chicago Police Department in 2003, and had one use of force allegation against him dating back to 1992. The second officer has three allegations that include two traffic complaints, one use of force complaint from 2005, and zero sustained complaints. 

A group called CPS Alumni for Abolition announced the vote on Tuesday evening on Twitter, and said the vote came after a student demonstration over the weekend. The group wrote: “Today’s vote brings our city one step closer to fostering spaces that truly serve and protect Chicago students and their education.” 

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