Clarity is needed. That was the message received from school board members at districts 97 and 200 following the presentation two weeks ago of a draft intergovernmental agreement between the schools and Oak Park’s village government focused on school safety and security.
We agree clarity is needed. And it may take more than the three weeks remaining until final votes on the IGA are scheduled at each board table.
The issues are complex and charged, as the intersection of school safety and policing is fraught with concerns over equity even as worries about mass school shootings are sickeningly immediate.
All parties to this discussion seem fully vested in creating a pact that examines the complexities with mindfulness on equity. Elected and appointed leaders in all three agencies have strong equity and safety values.
It was only recently that our public school districts turned away from the police resource officer model which had Oak Park officers in the school buildings. Rebuilding a relationship, most certainly with a different model, is essential.
Attention to historic inequities in the race of students who may be searched or questioned are very real. The circumstances under which such searches and questioning may proceed are also vital. Taking the time to get this right, seeking expert advice as a D97 board member suggested, is also the right call.
We know though that, in addition to clarity, we also need urgency. It became clear, in our reporting on an arrest last spring of a student outside OPRF who had a handgun in his backpack, that there were foundational communication gaps between the high school and the police department. Though back-channel phone calls between mid-level acquaintances within the police department and the high school led to a quiet resolution of the situation, it was stunning to many that more explicit protocols were not in place.
Part of the draft IGA details exactly what names and phone numbers must be shared between the schools and the police department, and what specific situations would lead to specific levels of communication. Obviously, this level of detailed planning is critical and overdue.
We sense a sincere and good faith effort underway on every side of this triangle of responsibility. All of us will be watching the progress.