“The police were not put into schools to keep Black and Brown kids safe. They were added as a control measure to keep Brown and Black kids from demonstrating against the social conditions that harm them.”
--“A CPS Mom Explains How the CPD Got Into CPS and How to Get Cops Out of Schools” by Cassandra Kaczocha
Black and Brown youth in Illinois, along with adult allies, have been organizing for many years to demand an end to punitive policies like zero tolerance and exclusionary discipline and police in schools and, at the same time, to demand provision of resources for their schools to address what students and schools really need for safety and security. Ending criminalization of Black youth, in and out of schools, is one of the planks in the Movement for Black Lives’ 2016 policy platform on ending the war on Black people.
In May, an uprising against police brutalizing and killing of Black people in the US began with weeks, and now months, of protests across the nation, across our state and around the world. The uprising was ignited by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, but it’s been sustained by the anger over hundreds of people---disproportionately Black---who die at the hands of the police year in and year out in the US, a genocide that takes place against a backdrop of institutional racism at every level in our society, including our schools.
As part of this uprising, the calls to remove police from schools and use those funds to provide for real student safety and health have grown even louder, and districts are beginning to respond. Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, and Seattle have now all said they will end their contractual relationship with police departments; many more districts around the country are considering this.
Students are leading the call for police-free schools in Chicago. And we firmly agree: Law-enforcement agents do not belong in schools. Stationing police officers in schools harms the safety, security and the educational experience of students, in particular Black and Latinx students, low-income students and students with disabilities. Police in schools create an environment that inherently criminalizes students, contributing to the trauma that many students experience outside of school and serving as the starting point for the school-to-prison pipeline. Surveillance by police working in schools is not covered by state or federal privacy laws, leaving students and families with no protections of their right to privacy of their educational record and personal information. In the wake of a global pandemic, massive economic depression and ongoing social unrest stemming from the systemic oppression of Black people by the police, the only humane policy response is to defund police and remove them from our schools.
In Illinois, schools police officers and security guards together outnumber any category of clinicians providing mental-health services: nurses, psychologists, social workers or counselors. And, furthermore, our schools do not meet recommended staffing levels for any of these clinicians. See this report from the ACLU last year for complete data.
And yet the law enforcement lobby has such power in our state that two years ago, a bill to give schools matching grants for moving money from school resource officers to fund clinicians was staunchly opposed by the Fraternal Order of Police who did not want any decrease in police in schools. The provision to reallocate funds from school resource officers to counselors was removed to get the bill through the General Assembly (where it was vetoed by then Gov. Rauner.) Last spring it passed and was signed into law as SB1941, but it still needs funding appropriated. This initiative was part of the ongoing Rethinking Safety campaign, led by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE).
It's important to look into what your district is spending on school resource officers and security guards, what’s being spent on positive supports for students, and how that is affecting the discipline rates, arrest rate and dropout rate of students by race, gender and disability. The US Department of Education website is a good place to start. And ProPublica has an interactive tool you can use to explore that same data.
#PoliceFreeSchools campaigns in Illinois
- Chicago: There are two coalitions that have been actively working to remove SROs from schools. The #CopsOutCPS campaign is pushing on both the Chicago Board of Education and individual Local School Councils to remove Chicago Police Department officers from schools. If you are a Chicagoan, sign and share this letter-writing campaign we’ve endorsed to end the $33 million contract between CPD and CPS. In addition, a coalition led by VOYCE is also campaigning to get police out of CPS and replacing them with Health Equity Action Response Teams. Find more info about that here.
- Waukegan: Sign the alumni-organized petition to remove police from District 60 schools Read more here "Petition drive expected to prompt discussion about future of Waukegan High school resource officers"
Urbana: USD 116 SRO Divestment Movement. Sign a petition here.
- Bloomington-Normal: Black Lives Matters BloNo demands including removal of SROs from District 87, Unit 5, and the Regional Alternative School. Sign petition for all demands here. Get in touch via FB.
Skokie: Petition to remove SROs from District 219
- Oak Park: Both District 97 and District 200 school boards voted to remove SROs from their schools. Two organizations pushing for this you can connect to are Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League and Freedom to Thrive Oak Park.
Are you organizing your local schools to remove SROs? Email us to add your city here.