CPS partners with 5 community groups to find alternatives to in-school officers

Police in school

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Chicago Public Schools plans to partner with five community organizations to engage members of the community to develop a menu of "trauma-informed safety approaches" to serve as alternatives to the School Resource Officer program.

Over the summer, CPS leadership and the Board of Education heard from many stakeholders, especially youth leaders from across the city, who expressed that they wanted schools to reimagine how they view school safety for students.

In August 2020, the Board passed a resolution calling for the development of a new process to create school safety plans that could be implemented without school resource officers, designed after rigorous, authentic engagement with school community stakeholders.

“Now is the time,” said Meyiya Coleman, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education Youth Leader. “We are in a moment to do something transformational. This is about trusting the community to help tackle this challenge. The district needs it. Students need it.”

To initiate this process, CPS issued an application for community-based organizations to partner with the district and lead the efforts. The community-based organizations were chosen by a selection committee that included students, a teacher, a parent, a local school council chair, a principal and the CPS chief safety and security officer.

“As a lifelong educator and leader of this district, I’ve seen the transformative power of a holistic approach to school safety that focuses on root causes of safety concerns based on the individual needs of a school,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. “We have made it a priority to empower schools to determine if school resources officers should be in their buildings, and now we are taking the next step by developing a new set of alternative trauma-informed approaches for schools to consider. We are grateful to have partners with deep roots in the community leading these efforts, and we look forward to presenting schools with a holistic menu of options to meet the needs of their individual school community.”

The five chosen, out of 15 applicants, are Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, Mikva Challenge, Community Organizing and Family Issues, The Ark of St. Sabina and BUILD Inc. 

They will lead community engagement and develop trauma-informed safety solutions known as Whole School Safety Programs, which schools will be able to adopt next school year.

The organizations will each receive a $30,000 stipend, funded by philanthropic organizations, for their work, CPS said.

In order to fully engage communities and stakeholders and develop concrete trauma-informed strategies for schools to adopt, the work of the Whole School Safety Steering Committee will occur over two phases. During the first phase, the independent consulting firm, Embark Strategies, led the group through a series of sessions to design a process that each organization will use to engage students, parents, educators, principals, Local School Councils (LSCs) and community members to gather their input on school safety needs and their vision for alternatives to the school resource officer program.

In the second phase these recommendations will be packaged and prepared for school administrators, local school councils and school communities. Members of the Trauma Responsive Educational Practices Project at the University of Chicago will partner with the district to guide the implementation of the effort. Local School Councils and school stakeholders will be coached through a sequential process to help them reimagine safety for their schools by considering the Whole School Safety recommendations, and learn about the concepts that went into creating them.

“This is about ensuring youth feel safe emotionally, mentally and physically and that is our commitment coming into this process,” said Courtney Holmon, Executive Director of Ark of Saint Sabina.

The committee will host 10 community engagement sessions in February, synthesizing community feedback into five-10 recommendations for the district to consider.

Once completed, this package will be presented to the school safety committees and LSCs of all 55 schools that have SROs. During the budget planning season, the 55 school communities will each prepare a safety plan. CPS has committed to developing equitable funding opportunities to implement safety plans at any of the 55 schools that choose to incorporate the Whole School Safety Plan recommendations.

“We are looking for what works,” said Adam Alonso, CEO of BUILD. “Developing a real plan to keep our young people safe and secure in school, with a strategic emphasis on equity and listening to all stakeholders, while highlighting the importance of youth and parent voices, is key to getting this right.”