by BRIAN NADIG
A dozen of the 20 people speaking at the July 21 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council voiced support for removing police officers from the school’s varsity and freshman campuses, while a recent school survey showed support for keeping the officers.
The LSC did not vote on the issue and plans to meet in a week or so for a vote on whether to keep school resource officers at Taft. Two officers are assigned to each campus, and the school also has a total of 14.5 security guard positions.
Student Layan Nazzal said that the officers should be removed not because of a specific problem at Taft but because of the “systematic racism” which the presence of officers at schools represents. “It’s a bigger problem, (and) it’s a school to prison pipeline.”
Taft 2018 graduate Cody Dominick said that the police disproportionately arrest people from “marginalized communities” and that the police cannot be relied on to protect members of those communities.
Taft 2020 graduate Tri Ho said that Black students are being “racially profiled” and that in the latest data available for Taft, Black students made up about 25 percent of the arrests a few years ago even though they represented slightly more than 2 percent of the school’s enrollment. He added that 629 people have signed an online survey calling for the removal of the SROs at Taft.
According to school administrators, in the last two years there are no more than a couple of arrests a month at Taft and that the number of arrests has declined as students are no longer being arrested for minor marijuana possession, instead receiving a citation.
Teacher Jorge Martinez, who also attended Taft as a student, spoke in favor of keeping the officers. He said that not all police officers should be judged based on the injustices of a few officers and that SROs provide extra security for the school.
Taft parent and retired police detective Gary Wager said that the role of SROs should to be minimized. He said that SROs have an advantage over a random officer who may respond to a 911 call because they “know the students involved (and) can neutralize the situation before it escalates.”
Parent Dan Pan said that there are plenty of examples of police officers helping people who were “going in the wrong direction, go in the right direction.” He added, “I promise those officers exist, and they are in abundance.”
Last week the school conducted an e-mail survey of parents (239 responses), staff members (179 responses) and students (129 responses), and the following results were reported: 91.2 percent of parents voted to keep the police officers at Taft and 8.8 percent for removing the officers; 65.9 percent of staff members supported keeping the officers and 34.1 percent for removing the officers; and 69.3 percent of students voted for keeping the officers and 30.7 percent supported their removal.
At the end of last school year, 85 of Taft’s approximately 220 teachers responded to a survey which included a statement in support of Black Lives Matter and the replacement of the SROs with counselors and social workers.
Seventy-six responded “yes” to the statement and nine answered “no.” A group of teachers created the survey.
Teacher Tom Shriner said that it is important for students “to feel at ease” in the classroom in order to have a successful learning environment and that if a group of students would feel better without school resource officers at Taft, then he supports their removal.
Teacher Bryan Wilson, who supports the removal of the SROs, said that the school’s enrollment is becoming more diverse, and “we need to make sure we keep a welcoming environment.” Taft’s racial makeup consists of about 46 percent White students and 54 minority students, including 40 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 3 percent Black.
Teacher Jeff Lucco said that the “police do not represent safety “ for all people and that the school should continue to focus on its current policy of restorative practices, which stresses problem solving over punishment in terms of student discipline.
Last month the Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted not to terminate its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department to provide two officers at 72 high schools. There have been protests nationwide calling for officers to be replaced at schools with more counselors and social workers, and the Denver and Minneapolis school districts recently ended their school resource officer programs.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said LSCs should make the final determination on whether to have police officers. Last year no councils reportedly voted to remove their officers, but the council at Northside College Prep High School recently became the first one to vote against having SROs at its school this fall.
Taft has one counselor for every 400 students and one full-time and one part-time social worker for the entire school, whose total enrollment between the two campuses is about 3,800.
In a recent e-mail to the faculty, Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that the school has not received any complaints about its current team of SROs and that the officers are chosen by a joint agreement between the principal and the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District commander. He said that the new selection policy took effect last school year, compared to the past when principals had “no voice.”
“When I first started at Taft six years ago, there were complaints, but since the advent and adoption of restorative practices (at Taft) I have not had any complaints. I recently contacted Jadine Chou, chief safety and security officer at CPS, and told her CPS should use our SROs as role models for the rest of the district. I did not want her to take them from us but use them as a resource to talk to all new SROs before they enter a school,” Grishaber wrote.
Grishaber said last week that he would abide by whatever decision the LSC makes regarding the SROs but said that there is no guarantee that the funds allocated for the officers would be reassigned for more counselors at Taft, adding that the officers are not funded through Taft’s budget.
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