Oak Park village board members and local school board members are getting closer to terminating Oak Park’s school resource officer program.
During a regular meeting on July 6, the Oak Board village board tabled a motion that would have prepared the groundwork for terminating an agreement the village has with District 97 and District 200 related to funding school resources officers at Oak Park middle schools and Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Trustee Susan Buchanan, who requested the motion be put on the agenda, said that her main motivation for bringing forward the motion was “the sheer volume of emails we’ve gotten about this. I really think it deserves a hearing.”
Buchanan echoed the board consensus, however, in stating she wanted to wait until the District 97 and District 200 school boards discuss the issue at their upcoming meetings.
The D200 board is scheduled to talk about the program at a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. on July 9 while D97 will discuss their agreement with the village that funds school resource officers at a regular meeting at 7 p.m. on July 14. Both meetings will be available for the public to watch online.
During a June 25 regular meeting, District 200 board President Sara Dixon Spivy said the school board has also received multiple emails urging them to discontinue the school resource officer program. Spivy said the district and the village were “on the verge of discussing” the intergovernmental agreement governing the program before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Each and every board member reaffirms our steadfast commitment to racial equality and racial equity and declares, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter,” Spivy said on June 25. “In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, there has been extensive national dialogue about the role of police in any community, but especially in schools.”
In an email sent to families on June 18 announcing the upcoming July 14 meeting, the D97 school board said “we have already started preliminary discussions with the village about the possibility of terminating our current IGA (intergovernmental agreement).
“We believe that there is nothing more important than all of our students feeling safe, cared for, and protected in our schools, and we are looking forward to having an open and honest discussion about the best path forward.”
At Monday night’s village board meeting, Trustees Buchanan and Arti Walker-Peddakotla said they favor terminating the agreements between both districts and ending the school resource officer program altogether.
“There has been so much research done on the presence of officers in schools, whether they are armed or unarmed, that says that it disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx students in schools and moves them into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “It doesn’t matter whether those officers are there for social programs or controls or whatever.”
Walker-Peddakotla added that “overwhelmingly the support is to move the school resource officers and I think we should follow through on that.”
“I do think we have the latitude that, even if the school districts decide they want to go ahead with the school resource officers, we still have the wherewithal to vote against that and to keep that from happening, which is what I would favor,” Buchanan said.
Trustee Dan Moroney, who also made known his stance on the issue, said that the decision on whether or not to continue the school resource officer program is for the school districts, not the village, to make. He said he’d vote “present” on the issue.
Trustee Deno Andrews said he would like school resource officers and Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds to be present the next time the board discusses the program.
Beyond the school resource officer program, Trustees Buchanan and Simone Boutet said they would like to see the village board addressing equity-related issues on a regular basis.
Buchanan referenced a recent New York Times article by Nikole Hannah-Jones entitled “What is Owed.”
“If we are truly at the precipice of a transformative moment, the most tragic of outcomes would be that the demand be too timid and the resolution too small,” Buchanan said, reading a quote from the article.
“In that vein, I really would really like to see one of the multitude of equity issues appear on every agenda going forward, at least one item for the next five or six months and if not, I would like to see a committee formed of our board that would meet in addition to our board meetings because of the moment we’re in now,” Buchanan said.