A screenshot from the student-led #CopsOutCPS virtual meeting last week.

The City Council joint committee on Public Safety and Education’s meeting on July 2 provided everything but answers on the issue of #CopsOutCPS. 

The joint committee met for a virtual subject matter hearing on July 2 to discuss a report from the city of Chicago’s Office of Inspector General in 2018 that highlighted the failure of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) including no formal written guidance specifying the roles and responsibilities of SROs and a lack of formal recruitment, selection, and placement processes. 

Representatives from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and CPS were present to give insight on the SRO program and any changes that were made based on recommendations by the Inspector General. The 2018 report listed the shortcomings of the SRO program and recommendations for changes to be made. 

“CPD’s recruitment, selection, placement, training, specification of roles and responsibilities, and evaluation of these officers were insufficient to ensure successful execution of the SROs’ very highly specialized duties,” concluded Inspector General Joe Ferguson. 

The report came in light of public concern regarding excessive force and abuse by Chicago police officers. A federal consent decree was put in place in 2017 by former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found a pattern and practice of civil rights violations by CPD officers. The report’s findings echoed concerns from community members and youth activists who had been calling on police accountability for decades.

When the committees met on July 2, they were not voting on anything. The five-hour-long hearing served as a Q&A session for the alderpeople who had questions about the program, but provided no time for youth activists to give their input beside the public comment section at the beginning of the hearing that limited speakers to two minutes. Demands for #CopsOutCPS fell on deaf ears. 

So youth activists decided to take matters into their own hands. 

Through a Facebook livestream, the #CopsOutCPS student coalition hosted its own hearing, an hour after the City Council hearing started, and brought in experts to provide research and data for their demands. Experts included University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Professor David Sovall, Amy Meek, senior counsel for Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) member Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith.

(Ed. Note: You can watch the #CopsOutCPS student-led meeting here.) 

“I do not support having police in my school,” said Ana McCollum, a youth organizer and a student from Kenwood High School. She began the hearing by expressing that students were no longer interested in giving their testimony on their pain and suffering. 

“My story is not for public entertainment,” she said. “We’re here to tell you our demands.” 

McCollum co-hosted the student-led hearing with Jennifer Nava, another youth organizer and recent graduate from Thomas Kelly College Prep.

“Last week, we convinced three of [Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s] hand-picked CPS board members to vote to cancel the $33 million contract between CPD and CPS,” said Nava, citing the recent CPS Board of Education meeting in which a motion to terminate the contract ended in a losing 4-3 vote. “That is a huge deal. A lot of people might consider it a loss, but we consider it a huge win.”


Although that motion failed, the #CopsOutCPS student coalition was already making plans to get their demands met in a different way by introducing the #FreePoliceSchools ordinance into the City Council and getting it passed. 

The ordinance was introduced by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, and Ald. Jeanette Taylor on June 17. It recently made it through the Rules Committee where it was expected to die, but then got moved to the Committees on Public Safety and Education for the joint hearing on July 2. There are currently 14 aldermen co-sponsoring the ordinance. 

“Today’s hearing was supposed to be on the ordinance,” said Nava. “But it was turned into a subject matter hearing to talk about a really old report by the Inspector General.”

The youth activists recommended three expert speakers for the virtual City Council hearing but were rejected. The students were told to sign up for a lottery to see if they could land a spot during the public comment section. 

Instead, their recommended experts chose to speak at the virtual student-led hearing on Facebook and gave a lengthy review arguing for the removal of police from schools. 

“The idea of policing has never been about safety,” said UIC’s Stovall. “It has always been about surveillance.” 

Stovall, who also teaches at Stateville Correctional Center, dug deep into the history of school policing by reminding viewers that police officers were initially placed in schools during the 1960s to quell student uprisings. He then talked about the school-to-prison pipeline and suggested using the term “school-to-prison nexus” instead to better represent the reality of school environments that perpetuate and normalize the criminalization of Black and Brown students. 

“It is no longer a pipeline,” he said. “Schools and prisons can be the same thing.” 

Stovall also emphasized the lack of national or local data that proves having police officers in schools makes students feel safer.

He was followed up by Amy Meek’s presentation that provided data on the ineffectiveness of SROs and the harm their presence can cause on students. 

“Multiple studies—including a review of 40 years of evaluations on school policing—have found no positive impact of SROs on school safety or discipline outcomes,” said Meek. “Research also shows that school security measures like SROs generally increase students’ fear and negatively affects students’ perceptions of safety.” 

The data she presented showed that the presence of SROs in schools led to more expulsions and suspensions. Students at schools with SROs are five times more likely to face a criminal charge for “disorderly conduct.” The data also showed that SROs suspend Black students at disproportionately high rates and that they also make Black and Brown students feel less safe. 

Simultaneously at the City Council hearing, alderpeople had questions pertaining to this data that CPD and CPS officials failed to immediately answer indicating a lack of preparedness as opposed to the experts at the student-led hearing. 

CTU’s Redeaux-Smith, also raised several questions regarding the presence of police officers in schools. 

“What does it mean to go to school during a pandemic and have an officer there every day and not a nurse?” she asked. Currently, CPS employs around 300 nurses for its more than 600 schools. 

Redeaux-Smith continued by echoing the demands for #CopsOutCPS from a teachers’ perspective and expressed her gratitude for the youth activists. 

“We want Chicago Public Schools to be a sustainable community school district,” she said. “[We want a school district] founded on racial justice and equity, founded on Black and Brown self-determination so that students can make decisions on the policies that impact them the most.” 

For updates on the #CopsOutCPS student coalition and the #FreePoliceSchools ordinance, be sure to check out their website and follow @StuStrikeBack on Twitter.