Oak Park and River Forest High School’s school resource police officer program is now a thing of the past. During a special meeting on July 9, the District 200 school board voted 6-1 to terminate an Intergovernmental Agreement with the village of Oak Park that governed the SRO program.
Board member Craig Iseli was the only board member who voted against terminating the agreement. Iseli had expressed support for D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams’ recommendation for a 1-year moratorium on the SRO program.
The superintendent said at Thursday’s meeting that a moratorium would allow the district to gather data on “incidents that would require SRO intervention while the district, community, and police department work collectively to develop a vision of what we would want the SRO position to look like if we decide to keep it.”
“I think the superintendent came to the right conclusion,” Iseli said, adding that he believes that students building relationships with the school resource officer at OPRF is important. School resource officers are sworn members of the Oak Park police department.
But most board members were frustrated that there is no hard data already available for a program that’s been in place since 1999 — the year the Columbine High School shooting took place in Colorado, prompting schools across the country to bring police officers onto campuses as a preventative measure.
Pruitt-Adams said the school resource officer’s role has evolved since then and was now more focused on building relationships with students and being a conduit between the police department and the high school, particularly in emergency situations.
Along with the officer, who patrolled the halls in full uniform, an Oak Park police squad car was often parked outside of the high school in order to deter potential criminal activity and threats.
Sara Dixon Spivy, school board president, added that she didn’t see how much data the district will get about the program from the upcoming 2020-21 school year, which could be another academic year that includes the majority of students learning outside of the classroom due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Most of the board members who spoke out against the SRO program said that they were not against school resource officers, per se. Spivy even said that her Black stepson who attends OPRF has had “nothing but good interactions with the SRO.”
Terminating the agreement, they said, had more to do with getting rid of a program that they don’t believe comports with the restorative justice and racial equity-centered direction the school is going in.
“If we are creating a restorative system then we need to do things differently,” said board member Gina Harris, who said that as an educator herself she’s worked directly with “amazing SROs.”
Harris added that, despite the lack of quantitative data regarding the SRO program, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence provided by Black and Brown students who have complained about feeling “policed” while in school.
Board member Jackie Moore said there hasn’t been much evidence that the presence of a police officer at OPRF has prevented a school shooting or a similar major threat. She also questioned how deeply relationships between the SRO and students can be cultivated when the position has such high turnover.
Supt. Pruitt-Adams said that in the roughly four years she’s been at the district, she’s seen three separate SROs at OPRF.
Some board members explained that the SRO’s training has always been as a police officer and is determined by the Oak Park Police Department — not the district. Moreover, any professional development that the school would recommend the SRO undergo, such as restorative practices training, has been strictly voluntary, Spivy said.
The agreement between Oak Park’s village government and District 200 was for $155,163.
With the SRO position effectively terminated, the village will pay back the district for the last roughly three months’ salary that it has expended on the SRO without the officer being on campus. And the district will be able to use the money it doesn’t spend on a police officer to fund the social worker/psychologist position, without the assistance of grant funding. That latter position, however, still needs to be approved by the board.
“If we decide to keep an SRO in the future, we would seek grant funding to sustain the social worker/psychologist position,” Supt. Pruitt-Adams noted in a board memo.