The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. In this letter to Mayor Lightfoot, a group of educators, parents and more demand that she remove police from Chicago Public Schools after a months-long review of the SRO policy. Submit your opinion to info@thetriibe.com.

Dear Mayor Lightfoot,

We write to you as Chicago educators, professors, parents, LSC members, lawyers, and taxpayers convened by the city of Chicago to review the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) School Resource Officer (SRO) policy as mandated by the Consent Decree

As members of this working group, we hoped that our input would be fully valued regarding the harmful practices of Chicago police officers stationed inside our public schools. Instead, we found ourselves used to rubber stamp policies that we didn’t agree with as a way for the city to check a box on the Consent Decree to say that CPD listened to the public. 

Our experiences mirrored those of the other working group convened by the city under the Consent Decree, another group of Chicagoans who spent hours reviewing CPD’s use of force policies earlier this summer. That group submitted 155 recommendations and only five were accepted. Members of that working group wrote in their letter to you, Mayor Lightfoot, that they felt the process was a sham. 

Sadly, we also feel that the city’s use of our time, input, and experiences was a sham.  We refuse to be used by the city of Chicago like a photo op.  We refuse to approve CPD’s policies that allow the police in our schools to continue to harm our students.

The members of our group know through our experiences in schools, whether attending them, working in them or advocating for our students in court, that police in schools harm students. Our experiences are backed up by reports and research, which also show that school police (resource officers/SROs) harm students. 

The harm to our students is psychological, physical and academic. All students, but specifically Black and Latinx students, as well as students with special needs, are the ones most negatively impacted by the presence of police in schools. Because of these experiences, more than 80 percent of our city-convened working group supported the recommendation that CPD stop stationing SROs in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). 

It was clear when our working group first met that the city did not plan to give us the tools we needed. When we asked for key documents or access to group notes, we were met with delays or outright denials. For example, we asked to see the draft Intergovernmental Agreement between the city and CPS to understand the current state of the city’s policies regarding police in schools. 

We were told we could not see those policies, because they were in draft form. After we completed our recommendations, the city and CPS finished signing the Intergovernmental Agreement, and then rejected many of our recommendations solely because they were inconsistent with this newly signed document — which we had not been allowed to see during our working group deliberations. 

Even though the city delayed in getting us the documents we needed, our deliberations felt rushed; we were constantly told we could only have four meetings in all, and our requests for more time were denied. Keep in mind that the SRO policy that we were working on was supposed to have been completed and implemented in August 2020, yet CPD just started the process in September 2020. In fact, CPD and city of Chicago have missed 70% of their Consent Decree deadlines so far.

Although student perspectives should have been centered in seeking community input, the city never included students at all. At the outset, we were told that the reason was that CPS would create a separate student group, and that our group could meet with them. Yet no such collaboration existed, and by our last meeting, the city admitted that CPS had never convened any student group for input on the SRO policy. 

Regardless of these obstacles, we made and voted on 54 very specific recommendations that you can read here.  The number one recommendation, which more than 80 percent of our working group voted to support, was the call to remove police from schools entirely. 

The 53 other recommendations included a wide range of topics, such as selecting police for schools, criteria for removing a police officer from a school, what police should wear in schools, use of force with students and the information police had access to about students. Examples of our specific recommendations included: 

* SROs should not carry any weapons on campus or at school events – including but not limited to firearms, tasers, clubs, etc.

* CPD officers should not handcuff or use restraints on a student while in the school building or campus.

* CPD (SROs and non-SROs) should not be involved in any school actions unless the event is or was an imminent and life-threatening event.

* CPD should not park vehicles outside in front of school buildings or in other very visible locations.

* SRO’s should not wear standard full police uniforms, but should wear clothing that clearly identifies them as “police” (not “SRO”) and wear badges visible at all times.

* CPS should not be sharing education information with CPD unless legally mandated.

* If a student is having a mental health crisis, CPS staff should be deescalating the student, if that is not sufficient CPS staff should call SASS. CPD should not be responding to those events.

* Selection criteria of SROs should include a stellar record. In our view, a stellar record would be defined as:

– Officers must have at least five years experience with CPD.

– Officers must have zero complaints within five consecutive years.

– Officers should have a minimum average quarterly rating of 95% for three consecutive years.

 

We spent hours of our own time during and outside of the working group meetings, creating very detailed policies that would best support the students that we all work with or advocate for. We submitted these policies to CPD.

Ultimately, CPD did not accept any of our group’s 54 recommendations. The vast majority — 38 of the 54 recommendations — were unilaterally rejected. As for the rest, CPD indicated it would partially accept 16 suggestions, but only in a watered-down form that would not change current policy. 

For example, we recommended that CPD officers not handcuff or use physical restraints on a student at school. In response, CPD said that officers would continue to use force or physical restraints on students “when reasonable and necessary,” as per current CPD policy. Far from a partial acceptance, this response is opposed to our recommendation that no restraints be used — and involves no change in policy whatsoever.

We do not get to give feedback on the modifications that CPD made to their policy. Yet CPD will attempt to use our group to claim that they had community input and that they improved their policy. 

We want to be clear and say loudly that police should not be in schools!  We want to be transparent and blunt that CPD did not accept even our incremental recommendations for reform.  We will not silently be used to rubber-stamp bad policy that, at best, was only slightly improved from what it was before.

Our recommendations are in line with what 87 percent of Chicagoans want: Reallocate money away from police and into other services. We demand that our students stop being treated as criminals. Instead of police, we demand resources that will actually help our students such as more counselors, social workers, therapists, and restorative justice coordinators. 

Students in Chicago have been leading the demand for police free schools for years. We stand in solidarity with the youth who fought this summer and won in reducing the amount of money that CPS is paying the police — from $33 million per year now down to $12 million a year. We want that money put into our schools and communities. 

The city of Chicago has the ability to replace police with services and programs to prevent student conflict and keep students safe. We ask that the city follow the requirements of the Consent Decree and incorporate our working group’s community input into the CPD policy, making meaningful reforms to the policy and moving towards the ultimate goal of removing police from our schools.

Sincerely,

Dave Stieber, Chicago Public Schools teacher and parent

Tashiana Stafford, Legal Fellow, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights 

Ashley Fretthold, Supervisory Attorney, Legal Aid Chicago

Hilario F. Dominguez, Chicago Public Schools teacher

Arathi Jayaram, Chicago Public Schools teacher 

April M. Tondelli, Chicago Public Schools teacher and parent

Oswaldo Gómez, Chicago Public Schools Alum and Police Accountability Community Organizer at ONE Northside

Amy Meek, attorney

Chelsea Biggs, ALSC Advocate, Uplift Community High School

Mariah Garcia, Justice Fellow, Loevy & Loevy

is a Chicago Public Schools teacher and parent.
is a Chicago Public Schools alum and Police Accountability Community organizer at ONE Northside.