The District 97 school board moved this week to end its agreement with the village of Oak Park that funds two full-time school resource officers at Percy Julian and Gwendolyn Brooks middle schools. The board made the decision at a regular meeting on July 14, although they still need to officially terminate the agreement with the village within the next 30 days.
In a joint statement released July 15, D97 board members said that a “number of students, parents and community members have expressed significant concerns about the effect of having armed police officers in our schools on our culture and climate. Most recently, several hundred members of the District 97 community reached out to the board urging us to discontinue the use of SROs.”
District administrators told board members at Tuesday’s meeting that the role of the school resource officers has evolved beyond the emphasis on discipline and law enforcement. The agreement with the village to fund the SRO program is 21 years old and has added some value to middle school students, administrators said.
But board members said the agreement nonetheless “reflects a perspective on police officers in our schools that is out of date. It does not reflect current understandings and values and is not supported by empirical evidence. It also does not accurately represent how district personnel have indicated SROs are currently used,” the board said.
Board members also echoed the concerns shared by District 200 Oak Park and River Forest High School board members before it moved last week to terminate its own SRO agreement with the village.
“It is also bad practice in general to have an agreement that goes without update for 21 years and that contains no evaluation metrics or measures,” the D97 board stated. “Typically, D97 contracts last for 1-3 years and contain provisions for assessing their effectiveness.”
The district has tentative plans to open on-site classroom learning to students a few days out of the week in the 2020-21 school year, but the termination of the agreement with the village means that school resources officers will not be at Brooks and Julian.
“We have shared with members of the district administration that they are welcome to come back to the board with a proposal for a new position,” the board stated, adding that the proposal should clearly describe the role of the position, the qualifications for the role and where that employee would exist within D97’s organizational structure.