Last week, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted on whether to keep police in schools. Previously, CPS left the decision with local school councils to determine whether School Resource Officers (SRO) should stay in schools. However, last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson announced that seventeen public high schools in the City of Chicago would no longer have Chicago Police Officers in the building during the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. In addition to removing SROs within several schools, CPS has proposed several reforms regarding the SRO program. For example, in addition to behavioral health training for SROs, principals can interview SROS before placement in their schools. The reforms also bar the use of the CPD Criminal Enterprise Information System, argued in the past as contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.
The school-to-prison pipeline continues to be a racial equity concern across the United States, inclusive of Illinois. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the school-to-prison pipeline is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect. These children would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.” A report published by the ACLU, Cops and No Counselors showed how policing in schools disproportionately affects and targets students of color, students with disabilities, and students of color with disabilities. According to their data, Black students are three times as likely to be arrested, with some states showing that Black girls were eight times more likely to be arrested than white girls.
While these reforms may be seen as progress, some professionals have concerns about how keeping SROs in schools may not actually meet the needs of the students and instead reinforce such inequities. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee within the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter, recently released a statement to discuss their concerns regarding SROs and the lack of adequate supports in schools. Latesha Newson, MSW, LCSW, Chair of the NASW-IL DEIC Committee, states:
During the 2015 to 2016 school year, 1.6 million students attended a school with a sworn law enforcement officer and no counselor or social worker. The NASW Standards for School Social Work Services (2012) calls for at least one social worker per 250 students in schools and one social worker for 50 students in schools with intensive needs. Yet, even with recent hires made by CPS, the ratio of social workers to students does not come near these recommended levels. This is a complete disservice to children and youth in Chicago who are bombarded with trauma consistently. The city of Chicago is currently in crisis which many see as a state of emergency. The social, racial, and political unrest, as well as the global pandemic of 2020, exposed our nation, including our children, to undeniable complex trauma. The question is whether Chicago Public Schools are equipped to meet the needs of those students effectively. CPS must be prepared and respond to the cry and conditions of our children and youth by providing services and support aimed to treat their complex trauma.
The Chicago Board of Education plans to vote on these reforms at their next meeting on August 26th. Community members can discuss their concerns regarding this with their local school board or provide commentary via the Chicago Board of Education website at www.cpsboe.org.
Chante’ Gamby is a writer passionate about social justice and empowering others to live their healthiest lives. You can follow her on Facebook at Fringefam, Instagram@fringegram, or on her website, www.fringefam.com.