OPRF agreement on 'police reporting' with Oak Park and River Forest departments stalls

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

What does OPRF report to police concerning student drug activity and when do they report it?

An intergovernmental agreement under consideration by the high school and the two police departments in River Forest and Oak Park hopes to clarify that. But officials at OPRF have slowed the progress toward approving the agreement. Questions related to student privacy and whether the agreement supersedes their current authority in reporting to police have been raised by school officials.

Some of those questions were voiced by the River Forest police, who first contacted OPRF about a formalized reporting process late in the fall of 2011. The high school then contacted the Village of Oak Park Police Department to include them in a similarly-worded but separate IGA concerning drug reporting. The District 200 board postponed a Jan. 19 vote on the agreement in order to further discuss it with both departments. A subsequent vote has not yet been scheduled, school officials said.

The school also had questions about "illegal" and "controlled" substances with respect to students, and how each might be reported to police. In their response to the school, RF police considers such drugs as cannabis, cocaine and opiates to be illegal under the agreement.

The school's principal or superintendent would also be required to report to police when there is "any alleged, suspected or verified incident involving drugs in school or on school-owned property or leased property, or on any transportation that is owned, leased or used by the school for its students or school personnel."

At the Jan. 19 board meeting, members expressed numerous concerns about the draft agreement. John Phelan doesn't want the high school permanently locked into this particular agreement.

"It's effectively written as an evergreen agreement that will never end and we would never have the ability to get out of," he said. "And it would seem to me that it might solve a number of problems if there were an escape clause that any party can cancel the agreement upon 30 days notice."

Board member Ralph Lee also agreed with having a so-called "out-clause." Terry Finnegan expressed concerns about what impact potential reporting could have on a student's future.

"One has to question if we're in a situation where we agree to some reporting levels that will affect our students and their ability to get into colleges — that's a hard thing to undo, even a month later," he said, adding that police also share that concern. "Generally, the police forces have been very reticent to criminalize activities. When we bring them in certain situations, and it doesn't hit a level that they want, they are concerned also about what effect it has on minors. I'm just worried, based on the language, if I'm interpreting correctly, that we really tie our hands here and we agree to report, basically, anything. ... It gives me great pause."

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