Police reform is coming to Oak Park. Interestingly it is coming through the school districts not the village government.
Last week the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School voted 6-1 to end its pact with village hall to provide a full-time school resource officer. The District 97 elementary schools will have a similar discussion at a board meeting this week over whether to continue having one SRO in each of the two middle schools. We expect they will also end that connection.
Oak Park’s village board took up this topic recently and, inevitably, tabled it pending action by the school districts. Clearly the village can’t and would not seek to impose an in-school presence against the direction of the schools.
Issues of discipline and security in our public schools are fully bound together with the welcome but complex discussions of equity in our schools. Clearly the long-time approach to discipline in the schools was unfair and landed like a brick on Black and Brown students. Both districts have actively, and with many bumps, moved to remake discipline in a restorative rather than a punitive model.
Having armed police officers in the hallways just does not mesh with that worthy effort. And that it does not mesh in the schools offers grist for a wider conversation on how we police young people of color, young men of color particularly, in our village.
Part of the change in approach at OPRF has been in how its large security staff was trained and deployed. For decades, students of all colors at that school have complained that it felt like perpetual lock down. The armed police officer, no matter how well intentioned, only added to that sense of being under watch.
We have no doubt that the school districts and the police department will work cooperatively to create rapid response to emergency situations in the schools and that police will continue to have a presence around these schools mornings and afternoons as students hustle in and out.
If D97 follows the path of the high school, the Oak Park police department will have three officers without immediate assignment. That is another opening in what should be a positive discussion of how community policing works in our village. These are opportunities not threats.