School Resource Officers Don’t Make School Safer. School Resources Do.

By CTU Vice President Jackson Potter

SROs never made our schools safer: resources and supportive adults do.

When the Local School Council at my former school, Back of the Yards College Prep, decided to remove school resource officers in a 6-5 vote back in 2020, it was hotly debated. Some educators and parents feared that no longer having SROs (short for School Resource Officers) in the building would make violence more likely. The assumption was that students would be less safe without an armed guard in the building. Four years after this decision, Back of the Yards College Prep students are no less safe, and the school is thriving: similar to the students at the 16 other schools that decided to remove their SROs in 2020. And most importantly, instead of off duty police officers patrolling the halls, this school now has a full-time social worker and restorative justice coordinator to help students navigate conflict and engage in restorative practices.

The debate in 2020 at Back of the Yards College Prep debate mirrors the citywide discussion of the Chicago Board of Education’s decision to discontinue SROs in the 39 Chicago Public Schools that still employ them. There is promise and panic in the air— but this resolution to remove school police officers from CPS is a step towards providing schools with resources that will actually keep students safe.

Removing SROs from schools is something Black and brown youth organizers have been fighting to accomplish for years as part of the CopsOutCPS campaign, which the Chicago Teachers Union was proud to support. We are also grateful for Mayor Brandon Johnson and this appointed Board of Education, who listened to young people in making this resolution a reality. Nationally (and in Chicago), disciplinary proceedings initiated by SROs are implemented more harshly and with greater frequency against students of color, particularly Black students. According to a report released by #CopsOutCPS, police assigned to CPS schools and their supervisors “have a combined total of 2,354 misconduct complaint records on file against them.” Many of the records involved the use of extreme force against Black Chicagoans, and 38 officers in schools had 20 or more misconduct complaints filed against them. Student Resources Officers (SROs) don’t create a safer environment for students.

The Chicago Teachers Union members know that simply removing the security officers who criminalize students isn’t enough. In response to the vote to remove SROs, we also have submitted a demand as part of our upcoming contract negotiation to bargain for safety and security after removing SROs, including additional trauma supports, restorative practice training and methods, appropriate personnel, and holistic safety practices.

Beyond the resolution, our members will continue to advocate for the resources needed to make every school a place where students are safe and able to thrive, from prioritizing Black Lives Matter at School Week, a project that grew out of the Black Lives Matter movement designed to uplift Black students, to advocating for Sustainable Community Schools. Most importantly, we will fight for policing funds to be reinvested in increasing the number of social workers, counselors and restorative justice programs overall that will redefine school safety.

All students deserve meaningful fulfilling relationships with school staff who are there to educate instead of surveil and secure. Just like my school community experienced at Back of the Yards College Prep, this Board of Education vote might cause some concern in the short term. But in the long term, it is an opportunity to reimagine safety and security for all Chicago students.