Oak Park and River Forest High School is seen on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, on Lake Street in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

After nearly an hour of discussion the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education unanimously approved on Nov. 17 an intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Oak Park to allow OPRF to share some student records, under some limited circumstances, with the Oak Park Police Department. The agreement also calls for the police department to have a primary contact and two backups to work with at the school.

The agreement once again establishes a formal partnership between OPRF and the Oak Park police department but does not assign an officer to be stationed at the school, 201 N. Scoville Ave. OPRF does not currently have a police officer stationed at the school. In 2020 the OPRF school board voted 6-1 to eliminate the school resource officer (SRO) position which placed an Oak Park police officer at the school during school hours.

On Nov. 15 the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 Board of Education approved the record sharing agreement by a vote of 5 to 2, with Holly Spurlock and Nancy Ross Dribin voting against the agreement.

At the start of the discussion Thursday evening OPRF board members Gina Harris and Kebreab Henry expressed reservations about the agreement.

Harris said that she was concerned that the agreement would target what she termed “students of the global majority.”

“Our data in Oak Park always looks the same,” Harris said. “I’m highly concerned that it is going to continue to look the same.”

Harris and Henry expressed concern about there being nothing in the agreement about restorative justice or de-escalation.

“I don’t see anything in this agreement about working restoratively,” Harris said.

Henry was concerned about how quickly the agreement was adopted. Henry said the board first saw the agreement a couple of months ago.

“I don’t know why we’re moving this quickly,” Henry said. “We just got this two months ago.”

He also said that the agreement was not specific enough about when police would be called if an offense occurred.

“There’s too much play in there for me,” Henry said.

But eventually Harris and Henry seemed to be won over by comments from new Oak Park Police Chief Shatonya Johnson.

Johnson emphasized that police would abide by the values of the school when at OPRF and would better know the school by having an officer assigned to the school’s threat assessment team.

“What we do understand is that we’re visitors in the building,” Johnson told the school board. “We’re not going to do things we would have done on the street.”

Johnson noted that Oak Park police officers undergo training in recognizing implicit bias and she herself teaches such classes for other police departments.

She said that the lack of an agreement creates confusion when the police have to respond to an emergency.

“This is hugely important just to share information, to get on the same page,” Johnson said.

The agreement was adopted with two amendments. One prohibits police from interviewing a student without their parents present except when there is a health or safety emergency or when police have a warrant or court order that explicitly prohibits the police from contacting the student’s parent or guardian. If the police do interview a student without the student’s parent or guardian present a school administrator, or other school employee, must be present during the interview.

The other amendment limits what student records will be shared with the police. Students records will be shared with the police without parental consent only in connection with a health and safety emergency as defined in the Illinois School Student Records Act or pursuant to a valid court order or warrant with appropriate notification to the student’s parent or guardian. Student records shared with the police without parental notification are limited to information necessary for the school to comply with its legal obligations and to maintain safety in the school environment.

School board member Sara Dixon Spivy said the agreement was a long time coming.

“I don’t see that this agreement increased police presence in our school,” Dixon Spivy said. “This allows us to coordinate better and more fully with the police department. I think we need this to be able to exchange information as quickly and easily as possible.”

Reciprocal records agreements between schools and police departments are quite common and usually, at least until recent years, uncontroversial.

Some parents would like OPRF to again have a police officer stationed at the school. Dixon Spivy told the school board that that she recently attended a meeting of the school’s Community Council. At the meeting a number of parents, she estimated approximately half the parents at the meeting, pressed for having a police officer stationed at OPRF due to concerns about violence and a spate of fights this year at OPRF.

“There was a very robust, and at times quite passionate, conversation around parents and their concerns for their students,” Dixon Spivy said. “We’re in a climate right now where violence seems to be on the uptick and so several parents voiced a strong preference for having an SRO.”

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